Parking enforcement divides New Hampshire town

| May 23, 2014 | 0 Comments

Chances are high that watching a meter maid tuck a ticket beneath your windshield wiper has never brought you joy. That’s the assumption made by activists in Keene, NH, where they use two-way radios to track the movements of the town’s parking officers. The band of mostly young adults stay ahead of the officials, feeding expired parking meters before the officers can scribble $5 citations. So, instead of tickets, drivers find business cards that explain how the group “saved you from the king’s tariff.”

street in keene, new hampshire

Free Keene’s putatively libertarian struggle against usage fees for land is playing out in a small New Hampshire town. From Dougtone.

Describing their acts as “Robin Hooding,” the would-be do-gooders are members of Free Keene (FK), an organization that aims to liberate fellow citizens from the “violent monopoly” of the local government. It’s a subset of the Free State Project, which is working to bring 20,000 libertarians to New Hampshire in an effort to make it a libertarian bastion.

In other words, many of FK’s subscribers are from out of state, a fact that hasn’t escaped locals’ attention. “They moved to Keene and decided because they don’t like it the way it is so we all need to change our ways to their liking,” Andrea Parkhurst Whitcomb wrote recently on the Facebook page of Stop Free Keene (SFK), a loose organization of residents opposed to FK.

Neither FK nor SFK has accomplished much more than virtual potshots so far, but each group represents the divisiveness characterizing Keene today. At the heart of the strife are two parking officers — both women — who monitor parking for the town of roughly 23,000. They alone endure being followed and videotaped by FK members, who occasionally greet them with questions like, “How do you live with yourself?”

The experience took a toll on Alan Givetz, a former military officer who left his job as a parking enforcer after being trailed by the so-called “Robin Hooders.” “They would try to make comments to bait me about my faith, about my military status,” he said. “I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t see an end in sight.”

FK front man Ian Freeman, born Ian Bernard, expressed little sympathy for Givetz. “If it’s too stressful, maybe it’s not the right job for you,” he said, noting how verbal and mental abuse are potential dangers listed in the officers’ job description.

The city of Keene didn’t buy Freeman’s argument, and filed a legal complaint against the activists last year. The city accused them of harassment and asked the court to implement a buffer zone between the parking officer and Freeman and his cohorts. The complaint was dismissed. Freedom-of-speech laws protect FK’s actions, wrote the presiding judge.

The city has appealed the decision, but in the meantime, FK continues to tail the officers and SFKers continue to grouse about the situation while the local government considers raising the cost of parking to 50 cents an hour.

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