WINCHESTER — They’ve been ridiculed, physically threatened, verbally harassed and compared to Nazis. People accuse them of hiding in wait until they can pounce on their next innocent victim. To some, they are the most hated people in downtown Winchester.
Corey MacKnight, Paul Meola and Sherry Berry-Campbell are the three people directly responsible for issuing parking tickets in Old Town Winchester. That puts them in the line of fire from anyone who thinks they didn’t deserve a fine.
“Ninety-five percent of the people we deal with every day are exceptionally great people,” Meola said.
What about the other 5%?
“They’re pretty bad,” Berry-Campbell said.
Meola and Berry-Campbell are downtown Winchester’s two parking enforcement officers. They report directly to MacKnight, the city’s facilities maintenance and parking division manager.
“We’re a team,” MacKnight said on Tuesday.
Overall, Meola and Berry-Campbell said they like their jobs. They get to stay outside all day and provide valuable services to people in Old Town.
“We help people that are lost, we help people find cars, we help people who trip and fall,” Meola said.
But they also have to work in the rain and snow, heat and cold, and deal with irate people who believe they are being unfairly punished.
“We get pretty abused out here,” Meola said. “We’ve even had to get a restraining order against someone in the city.”
Contrary to popular belief, Meola and Berry-Campbell said they are not obligated to write a certain number of tickets per day, week, month or year. There’s also no truth to the rumor that parking tickets are only issued so the city can collect more money.
“For every one person who has to pay a ticket, there are five or six we let slide because we understand their situations,” MacKnight said.
For example, people who pay for parking using the city’s ParkMobile smartphone app sometimes make an error when entering their vehicle’s license plate number. MacKnight said he and his enforcement officers will let them off the hook, but only once and only if they promise to correct the mistake before they park again.
But make no mistake — if you deserve a ticket, you’re going to get one.
The latest excuse used by some drivers is they can’t put money into a meter because of the national coin shortage. MacKnight said that doesn’t fly because anyone can use the ParkMobile app to pay parking fees online.
Other popular excuses for illegal parking, according to Meola and Berry-Campbell, are, “I didn’t know I had to pay the meter,” and, “I was only stopping for a minute.” Neither of those lines stop a driver from getting ticketed.
Meola and Berry-Campbell would have a lot less stress in their lives if Winchester didn’t charge people to park downtown, but MacKnight said removing the meters and parking garages would actually hurt Old Town businesses.
“You want customers to shop, dine and do their business while having a convenient place to park,” he said. “In order to have turnover, you have to charge people so they won’t stay there all day.”
MacKnight explained that downtown business owners, employees and residents want to park as close as possible to their stores, restaurants, offices and apartments. If there was no charge to park, prime spaces on streets and in the four downtown autoparks would almost always be claimed by their vehicles, making it hard for visitors and shoppers to find a good parking spot.
All money collected from parking fees and fines goes to the Winchester Parking Authority, a self-sustaining government agency that enforces regulations passed by City Council and uses revenues to fund parking improvements. All four downtown autoparks were built and paid for by the authority, and the group is currently storing up a reserve fund because it believes a fifth garage may be necessary in the near future.
Parking fees and fines also pay the salaries of MacKnight, Meola and Berry-Campbell. While MacKnight is a salaried city official, his two enforcement officers are paid by the hour.
MacKnight said he was up front with Meola and Berry-Campbell when he hired them two years ago.
“I told them this is not an easy job,” he said. “You have to have a thick skin and the right personality.”
They also have to have comfortable footwear. Meola said he and Berry-Campbell walk eight to 12 miles every day while patrolling Old Town.
“Last year, I totaled over 2,700 miles,” Meola said.
Despite the negative aspects that go along with being a parking enforcement officer, Meola, Berry-Campbell and MacKnight said they enjoy their chosen professions.
“At the end of the day, we all have a job to do,” MacKnight said.