Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Entitlement? Privileged? Scofflaw!

What's wrong with this picture?

Courses have started and the path of my walk to class, in the hot sun, crosses the parking lot of the University of New Mexico School of Law. You can tell a lot about what’s happening on campus by the bumper stickers you encounter. I was reading mostly “John Edwards for President” stickers. I didn’t see a single Richardson for President or Obama, or even a Hillary Clinton sticker. Of course, I was only looking to my right, but didn’t see a single Republican candidate’s sticker. There is nothing scientific about bumper sticker polling.

However, it lead me to stop upon seeing two red State legislators plates on vehicles parked at meters in front of the law school.

The car on the right belongs to Senator Linda M. Lopez D- Bernalillo County District 11 of the South Valley, while the one on the left is registered to House of Representatives member Gail Chasey D- Bernalillo County District 18 of the lower-Heights, including the University.

So what's wrong with this picture?

The expired time/violation was blinking in the parking meter for Lopez’ vehicle.

Lopez, seen above working at the last legislative session, as she grabbed lunch, is a law student.

Lopez serves on several committees. She is chair of rules and a member of the judiciary committees. She is a designee to the interim legislative finance committee.

She also serves as a member on several interim committees, including: co-chairing the interim legislative ethics and is a member of the information technology and telecommunications oversight committees.

She sits in an advisory capacity on several interim committees, including: courts, corrections and justice; legislative health and human services; tobacco settlement revenue oversight committees and the funding formula study task force.

Both cars were parked in the paid spaces normally reserved for or made available for the public or irregular visitors who don’t obtain parking stickers.

Chasey, right, also is a law student. She chairs the consumer and public affairs committee and serves on the judiciary and the rules and order of business committees. She is a retired educator according to her legislative web page. She is married to long time Democratic Party member and former Attorney General David Norvell, who served from 1971-75 and is currently serving a six-year term on the state’s racing commission.
The parking meter in front of Chasey’s car had one-hour-15 minutes registered. I have no problem with her parking at a metered parking space and I suggest nothing untoward about her. On campus, parking is at a premium, yet at times the extra price is worth it as parking fees continue to go up at rates faster than tuition. Even with appropriate stickers, there is no guarantee of finding an empty space in a student lot.

Now you might think I’m nitpicking; you’d be right. Last year, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish attended a meeting with Martineztown victims of flash flood damage; her state plated vehicle was parked in front of a fire hydrant. I notice the vehicle, but did not see the hydrant. As she walked the neighborhood with residents, the TV guys at KRQE got the story.

Denish, center, with Martineztown Neighborhood Association President Christina Chavez Apodaca, left, and State Rep. Rick Miera, right, and City Councillor Isaac Benton, in the rear wearing a pink shirt, walk the area with residents and members of the news media while on a tour inspecting the damage.

Denish’s Chief of Staff Judith Espinosa, seen here on the right with her boss, took the blame for parking the car improperly.

I decided that should I see such a violation by a public figure in the future, I would report on it.

This is not the first time I’ve recorded this kind of behavior. In the April 24, 1969 issue of the Albuquerque News, there was a picture page about a Senate sub-committee hearing chaired by then junior Senator Joseph M. Montoya D- N.M., that was sparsely attended.

This is Montoya’s automobile parked against a “No Parking Any Time” curb in front of Albuquerque’s old Civic Auditorium, where the Heart Hospital of New Mexico is now located.

The only difference here, is Lopez’ violation is one of time, not safety.

There is a slippery slope that, for public officials and especially police officers, can lead to ethical problems and beyond to corruption.

Several ethicists suggest that the first step on the slippery slope is a sense of entitlement. The entitlement sometimes comes from statutory exception. An example; police officers are permitted to disregard some traffic laws during emergencies. The one that seems simplest to disregard is parking, without regard to other restrictions like yellow and red zones. Officers begin to believe, since they may disregard parking restrictions during emergencies, the marked police unit alone is sufficient for them to feel they are entitled to park wherever they wish.

After entitlement, a sense of privilege sets in. Having a marked police car or official plates is perceived as a privilege for the driver, who then ignores the laws, usually the small ones at first and sees the benefit as just a perk of the office.

It doesn’t help when coffee shops give police officers a cup, but they usually do so because they want the security that the uniform brings.

Though one can understand how a location would want to encourage having an officer in their establishment, this sign, above, at a local fast food franchise is flaunting a low level bribe and any officer who doesn’t pay full fare is making more than a mere scratch into the ethical shield. The question, in an officer’s mind should be, am I doing business here, rather than the other neighborhood business, because of the offered break?

If the answer is yes, then there is bribery afoot, both offered and accepted. Most officers, legislators and elected officials don’t abuse their privilege.

One might think that those who write, impose and enforce law on the rest of society, might be careful enough, especially while displaying their official plates, not to flaunt their office, while the rest obey the laws, pay our way or pay the fines. Just an integrity issue to place in the back of one’s mind next time a name appears on the ballot.


Michelle Meaders said...

So a legislator who is also a law student's parking meter had expired and she hadn't gotten a ticket yet? And this is proof of corruption? Don't you have better things to do?

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a coincidence. Two adjacent parking places. Being a conspiracy hack from the '60's, makes me wonder whether these spots are "reserved".

I going to assume that this parking area is under the jurisdiction of campus police. Given the incestuous relationship between State Government and UNM, I think it is highly unlikely to believe that any "official" plated vehicle will ever be ticketed on campus.

Ched MacQuigg said...

Re: free lunches

While this does smack of a bribe; the fact that it is open and above board speaks volumes.

My wife and I once offered to pay for an officer's lunch. He was dining at a table next to us, and we were moved to express our appreciation for his service. He declined, saying he already was getting a discount anyway.

Nice piece; certainly thought provoking.

Anonymous said...

I can't resist adding this story here.

While driving to Santa Fe a couple months ago I approached and passed a car with at NM Legislator license plate. I notice that the car seemed to speed up and slow down and occasionally approached the center line a bit too close for comfort.

As I got closer, I saw a sticker with the name Rawson in the back window.

Then, as I passed, I was shocked to see that the driver was holding a sheet of paper across the steering wheel and reading as he drove!

The positive side of this? It thoroughly dispels that old myth that legislators can't read.