PLYMOUTH — A borough councilman on Tuesday alleged that Council Chairman Thomas McTague has been quashing parking tickets — an allegation McTague denies.
At council’s regular work session, Councilman Gary Kochinski said he believes police officers have cut way back on writing citations over the years because council has cut back on police funding and manpower, allowing them less time to write citations because of the volume of calls they receive, and “citations have been quashed by borough council members for votes.”
He said officers have had to rummage through a thrift store dumpster for computer parts and deal with overflowing toilets in holding cells on a recurring basis.
Kochinski said that since he’s taken office in January, he’s had weekly meetings with Mayor Dorothy Petrosky and police to try to figure out ways to correct these situations.
“I’ve asked officers what I had to do for them to start enforcing borough ordinances again, and I was told, ‘Stop having councilmen squashing tickets,’ that it was illegal and that he doesn’t have time to be wasting, with only one police officer on duty most of the time … to be writing out citations and have the ticket ripped up,” Kochinski said.
Kochinski said he told police officers to start keeping records of ordinance citations they file as well as payments received.
“We still currently have a problem with our chairman, Mr. McTague, still telling citizens he will take care of parking tickets,” Kochinski said.
“I never told anybody that in my life,” McTague retorted.
Kochinski continued, saying a parking fine costs $10, but it will increase to $70 and be sent to a district judge for collection if not paid to the borough in a certain amount of days.
“We’ve had citizens show up at the magistrate office at their hearing for their parking tickets. A citizen told the magistrate this councilman was supposed to take care of the citation,” Kochinski said, referring to McTague.
“The magistrate said it was illegal to do so and he doesn’t do that. In turn, citizens have filed complaints with the police department on this councilman, and the complaints have been passed off to other departments outside the borough,” Kochinski said, adding after the work session that borough police turned the matter over to the Luzerne County District Attorney.
Kochinski also said he believes the police department has suffered financially in terms of proper funding because of a lack of cooperation from police officers when council members made political requests in the past.
“It was so bad here before the new council took over, our police officers went down the thrift store digging through the dumpster for computer parts … to get their computer system to work downstairs,” Kochinski said.
“I don’t know where you’re all getting your information, but I was on the last council, and I don’t remember anyone digging in a dumpster. Do you, mayor?” McTague said.
“They were,” Petrosky replied.
McTague also said a plumber was to the holding cells to fix the problem multiple times.
“And I never squashed a ticket. The only ones I talked to them about about was the ones when they didn’t (sweep) that side of the street and people got tickets anyhow,” McTague said.
“Over the past years, these guys stopped writing borough ordinance citations because they said the tickets got squashed,” Kochinski replied. “November and December you squashed a ticket for a guy who came in for a parking ticket. You ripped it up in front of a police officer and said, ‘Merry Christmas.’”
“Who said that? That’s a lie, and you tell him I said so,” McTague said. “I’d never do that and you know that. In fact, last week, I paid $155 — for a lady that got two sweeper tickets — out of my own pocket.”
McTague said after the work session that some residents came to the borough municipal building while he was there to complain about street sweeping tickets and he told them he didn’t think they should have to pay them because their side of the street was not swept.
McTague said he took the citations to District Judge Donald Whittaker’s office and asked that they be forgiven because the residents’ side of the street was not swept because the street sweeper broke down and was told that “if the ordinance is incorrect, they would have to be excused.”
McTague said he thinks one ticket was excused and another was not. “The one that didn’t get excused, I felt bad so I’m paying that myself, the $77.50,” he said.
Also after the meeting, Kochinski said he believes McTague paid one or more tickets for people because they came to the municipal building to file a complaint about McTague telling them he would take care of their tickets and then receiving a citation in the mail for more than $70 from the district judge.
Kochinski also said he was told by police that “a checklist of what tickets to void” was kept in the municipal office and regularly sent to police before he took office.
Kochinski said the officer who provided him much of the information preferred not to comment for this story because the matter is under investigation.