Santa Barbara’s corrupt parking enforcement sees more changes

| February 11, 2014 | 0 Comments

Four months after the sentencing of former police business manager Karen Flores, who embezzled more than $500,000 from Santa Barbara’s parking-citation fund, the city approved $55,000 for an analysis of its outdated ticketing system.

City Hall initially issued a proposal request for the study last fall and received just one response from J R Parking Consultants. With the contract now approved (albeit at twice the budgeted amount), the firm will look at all aspects of Santa Barbara’s ticketing system — from writing to payment and processing, as well as whether it would be cheaper to outsource the system, as Chicago and other cities do.

Bicyclist in Santa Barbara

Image of Santa Barbara from Michael Theis.

Police spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood explained during City Hall’s deliberations that some police departments outsource products and services from vendors, such as Xerox, to mail and process tickets, while the department collects the revenue. Santa Barbara’s police department recently entered into such a contract with a Texas-based company over its dog-licensing duties, he said.

Santa Barbara’s current parking program counts fourteen officers responsible for enforcing 75-minute zones and street-sweeping regulations. It also includes three office staff who oversee and process all payments, which totaled $2.35 million during the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The revenue resulted from 83,166 tickets, only nine of which were contested in small-claims court, one successfully.

The numbers suggest that the city’s program functions adequately, but staff say its computer system is cumbersome and antiquated, and the collection process can be quite complicated. Those complications made it difficult for Santa Barbara’s finance department to determine in 2009 whether discrepancies between its general ledger and the police department’s automated parking-citation system were a result of theft.

Flores, who had been in her position five years at that point and a public employee for at least a decade, was part of the task force assigned to discover the source of the discrepancies but simply adjusted her methods to avoid being caught. Two years later, she was charged with eleven felonies and misdemeanors for theft of public money, filing false income-tax documents, and destroying parking citations. The exact amount stolen is unclear, but the city’s insurance company paid out $580,000, which has increased premiums 44 percent as a result.

Flores told her therapist that she used the stolen money to maintain and support her family, but senior deputy district attorney Brian Cota argued that Flores’s actions belied her claims. Within a fifteen-month period, Flores bought a boat, a jet ski, all-terrain vehicles, a truck, and an SUV.

The theft prompted Santa Barbara to seek temporary safeguards for its parking-citation funds, but a comprehensive review of the system hasn’t taken place in years, says Lori Pedersen, who took over Flores’s job about a year after her arrest. “This type of analysis is only done as needed,” wrote Pedersen in an email to press.

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Category: News, Regulations