More MS news articles for May 2001

Worker files suit over downtown parking policy

A Salvation Army worker has filed a complaint about the accessibility of Monroe's city parking lots.

May 21, 2001

More than a year after the attorney general issued an opinion about downtown parking limits, the City of Monroe is being sued in federal court for discrimination.

Helen Jones of Toledo disagrees with Attorney General Jennifer Granholm's opinion that cars displaying handicapped stickers must abide by the city's posted one-hour parking limits. She's filed a class action suit in U.S. District Court alleging discrimination.

It's not just the time limits that her suit challenges.

"There's not one spot in the city that meets the (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements," said David F. Grenn, Ms. Jones' attorney. "You can't just paint a spot blue and put up a sign. There has to be access."

Ms. Jones works for the Salvation Army's Harbor Light facility on S. Monroe St. She has multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease affecting her muscles, and often is forced to use a wheelchair to remain mobile.

"I parked during my entire workday in the nearest available space to my office, and the City of Monroe never ticketed my vehicle," Ms. Jones wrote in a declaration of plaintiff filed along with her suit. "Without explanation, recently the City of Monroe abandoned its policy and began to ticket my vehicle during the workday."

Nearly every day since, Ms. Jones wrote, the city tickets her vehicle twice, charging $5 for the first infraction and $25 for the second. Discussions with the city have gotten nowhere, Mr. Grenn claims, because the city says it has free parking with handicapped accessible spots in lots around the city.

But Ms. Jones claims the lots aren't accessible to her.

"I have explored parking possibilities near my work," she wrote in her declaration. "Even though the City of Monroe provides free parking in these municipal lots to persons who work downtown, I am unable to participate in this free parking due to my disability."

The lots nearest her office building, she claims, referring to the Lauer-Finzel parking lot along the River Raisin just west of S. Monroe St., "are located at the bottom of large hills.

"I am unable to overcome the steep grade out of the parking lots to make it to my office. Also, the steep grades downhill to return to my car are unmanageable and I would risk losing control and being thrown from my chair."

Ms. Jones is seeking compensatory relief from the thousands of dollars worth of parking tickets she's received, as well as a new parking spot.

"If the City of Monroe would return to its former policy of not ticketing me when I park downtown, then I could return to parking in the closest available parking space to my office," her declaration reads.

"Or better yet, if the City of Monroe would reserve for me a free accessible parking space on the street next to my office, it would allow me to participate in the free parking program that Monroe provides to non disabled persons who work downtown like I do."

City attorneys, however, disagree.

"We've done extensive review of the situation," said John Gillooly, a senior partner with Garan, Lucow and Miller of Detroit. "I'm quite confident that the ordinances are legally valid and enforceable. At no time does the city want to discriminate against someone that's disabled and we don't believe we're doing that now."

Granting Ms. Jones a special parking spot downtown isn't fair to the rest of the downtown, city attorneys argue.

"This ordinance is facially neutral," he said. "This one-hour parking was driven by the downtown merchants. We were finding that people were being meter hogs, quite frankly. We're sympathetic to persons with disabilities, but according to the attorney general the disabled must follow the time limits."

But another of Ms. Jones' attorney's, Mark Finnegan of Heberle and Finnegan in Ann Arbor, said that's a standard response.

"Isn't that the argument you can always make under the ADA? Don't cities always say, 'If we do it for her, we have to do it for hundreds of people.' That's just the wrong argument under the ADA. It requires cities to take a look at the requirements of Helen Jones.

"But let's set all this aside for a second," Mr. Finnegan said. "Helen does a very important job and she's very valuable to this community. Shouldn't the city just do this? It's the right thing to do. It seems like common sense to me."

The matter will be before U.S. District Judge John Corbett O'Meara at 2 p.m. June 15 in Detroit.

©Monroe Evening News 2001