LAWRENCE – A year after a parking attendant was charged with skimming thousands of dollars at a downtown garage he helped manage, the city is moving to automate collections at its nine cash-only parking lots and to hire a contractor to run its two garages.
The effort begins the reorganization the city’s fiscal overseer asked for in a scathing assessment of weak financial controls at the municipal garages and lots, which was issued following the arrest of attendant Justo Garcia on June 6, 2013. Garcia’s trial on larceny and other charges is pending.
Overseer Robert Nunes said the lax controls made the parking operation ripe for the kind of shakedown authorities allege took place in Lawrence.
Nunes made 14 recommendations to improve the operation – from replacing the attendants with meters to replacing the security cameras installed a quarter century ago – and asked then-Mayor William Lantigua to submit a plan for implementing the changes. Nunes also called for an independent audit of the finances at the parking facilities.
Lantigua responded with a three-page letter saying he had hired an outside auditor to do the financial review and that work on many of the changes Nunes sought was underway, including a study of the options for installing the meters.
The audit was never done, the meters were never installed and few if any of the other recommendations were put in place.
Nunes’ to-do list at the lots and garages was inherited by Daniel Rivera, who defeated Lantigua in November and took office Jan. 2.
In April, the city advertised for vendors to install and possibly manage a so-called pay-and-display parking system at the lots, which would use automated kiosks to replace the attendants who now collect the $2 hourly fees. The machines would accept credit and debit cards, ending the cash-only system for daily parking.