A woman with multiple sclerosis says the city parking policies discriminate against disabled persons.
June 16, 2001
Evening News staff writer
By JOSHUA KENNEDY
DETROIT - What Helen Jones wants from the City of Monroe is simple.
"I want to be able to continue to park and be able to work in a place that is accessible to me, like the other people I work with," said the Toledo woman, who has multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease affecting her muscles that often requires the use of a wheelchair.
In April, Mrs. Jones - who works at the Salvation Army's Harbor Light facility on S. Monroe St. - filed a class action suit in federal court alleging the city is discriminating against disabled persons by not providing adequate, or adjacent handicapped parking in the downtown area.
The remedy she seeks is that the city provide her one spot close to her office where she can park. The closest space to Mrs. Jones' office is nearly 600 feet.
"You are asking the court to mandate that the city give you accommodation in the one-hour parking spaces without having to suffer the consequences," said Attorney Thomas Paxton during a Detroit hearing Friday for a preliminary injunction against the city.
About two years ago, citing Attorney General Jennifer Granholm's opinion that cars with handicapped placards must obey posted parking time limits, the city changed its policy and began ticketing all cars parked in downtown spots longer than the posted hour limit.
Since then, Mrs. Jones has been receiving two tickets a day for parking in a posted one-hour spot for longer than an hour. She's amassed nearly $10,000 in fines, $5 for the first daily infraction and $25 for the second. The injunction would stop the tickets until her lawsuit is hashed out.
Mrs. Jones' attorney, Mark Finnegan presented three witnesses, including Mrs. Jones, and submitted a stack of declarations from similarly situated people. One of those people, quadriplegic Daniel Wilkins of Toledo, told the court Monroe was one of the worst handicapped-accessible places he'd ever seen.
"I don't feel welcome," said Mr. Wilkins, who travels the country speaking about disability-culture issues and has been a witness in several similar cases. "I'd say Monroe is in the lower 10 percent of all the places I've seen" as far as disabled accessibility.
Mr. Paxton presented a map delineating handicapped parking spaces downtown. His only witness, downtown Monroe businesswoman and activist Mary Gail Beneateau, helped make the city's point that granting one exception to the rule would open the door to a very "slippery slope" where many other similarly situated people would request the same.
The downtown parking spots are at a premium because the retail, service and restaurants need availability for customers, Mrs. Beneateu, said. She also sits on a downtown parking committee.
But U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O'Meara, who heard nearly two hours of testimony Friday, said he's not even sure if he has jurisdiction over the matter.
"But I would like to say something," he told both camps before asking them to meet in his juror room to see if they could come to a reasonable solution. "It's my personal opinion, and I'm not ordering this, but it seems to me the city should stop ticketing Mrs. Jones until this is resolved.
"There are no bad people in this case," the judge said. "The city is trying to do its job to ensure downtown parking turnover and (Mrs. Jones) is trying to do her work. I'll have a judgment hopefully in the next week, maybe two.
"But in the meantime, maybe this is a good time to keep talking to each other. Keep on being the good people you are and settle this."
The lawyers met privately for about 10 minutes before leaving the courthouse separately - without reaching a resolution.
©Monroe Evening News 2001