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Complaints about valets spur random compliance checks by Pittsburgh police

Munhall man wins parking fine battle

A judge sided with a Munhall man Pittsburgh police cited and fined for parking in a public, on-street spot in Market Square erroneously claimed by a Green Tree valet service.

Joe Smetana, 49, pleaded not guilty to parking illegally because he said when he parked his car about 4:30 p.m. Oct. 4, employees of Tri State Valet Inc. hadn't posted “No Parking” signs in the square to warn visitors they would be using the spaces. When Smetana returned about 8 p.m. after work, his car had been towed.

A judge found Smetana not guilty on Monday. He will receive a refund of the $96 parking fee. He plans to take documents provided by the court in an attempt to receive a refund of the $115 towing fee from McGann & Chester Towing Inc.

The Tribune-Review profiled Smetana's plight on Wednesday as part of a series of stories on complaints from Market Square visitors about Tri State Valet's methods.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Police will make random checks of valet parking services in Pittsburgh to determine whether they're breaking the rules in response to complaints about heavy-handed tactics by a Green Tree valet company working in Market Square.

“We'll be able to provide recommendations to the chief if we see things that don't seem right or need to be improved,” said Cmdr. Scott Schubert, who oversees the West End station and the Special Deployment Division, which handles traffic-related matters. “It makes sense for us to do it. And if there are things in violation of the crimes code, we would be able to issue citations.”

Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant is ramping up the department's enforcement of valet parking rules less than a week after the Tribune-Review first wrote about complaints from shoppers and merchants about employees of Tri State Valet Inc., its politically connected owner and his friendship with ex-police Chief Nate Harper.

“It is evident that there is a need for more frequent and random compliance checks to help address and/or alleviate any future complaints,” said Bryant, whose office approves valet permits.

Tri State employees tried to force Market Square visitors to use the service, monopolized dozens of on-street parking spots and used more than their allotted six parking spaces for dropping off and picking up cars, Market Square business owners and patrons said.

Pittsburgh's valet parking variances dictate how many spaces companies may use and require employees to park cars in garages or lots that have lease agreements with the valet service, not on city streets.

Bryant said the last time valet compliance checks occurred was in October or November. She said Officer Tonya Ford and detectives from the now-dissolved Community Technical Investigative and Preparedness Section, known as C-TIPS, conducted the checks. C-TIPS was a hand-picked squad of officers who reported directly to Harper, who resigned last month before federal authorities charged him with siphoning public money to private accounts and failing to file tax returns.

The Tribune-Review this week reported that Harper gave special treatment to valet permit requests submitted by Tri State owner Robert Gigliotti, 46, of Banksville, Harper's friend. Former Assistant Chief William Bochter said Harper would give Tri State more than the usual number of spaces to use in front of restaurants and bars and handled Tri State's applications through the chief's office rather than allow them to go through normal channels.

Acting police Chief Regina McDonald disbanded C-TIPS last month, and its detectives report to other commanders. To protect the chain of command, McDonald has said she doesn't think police units should report directly to the chief or deputy chief.

Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly, who oversees the station that covers the South Side, said the crackdown on valet parking services is overdue, particularly along East Carson Street. She said she received complaints from neighbors and drivers about aggressive valet services working along 17th Street and Carson, near Nakama Japanese Steakhouse, Diesel Club Lounge and other establishments.

When she tried to investigate complaints about valet services, McNeilly said she couldn't get answers from Bryant or Harper about the rules valet services should follow. Nor could McNeilly obtain copies of the variances from police headquarters so she could determine how many spaces valet employees could use and at what times.

Nakama owner Bob Gomes said he uses his employees to provide valet parking for customers, has a variance for four spaces and follows the rules. He said some customers might have confused his valet workers with other companies'. His employees park cars in a private lot at Birmingham Towers.

A Diesel employee declined to comment. Messages left with the club's valet company, In & Out Valet Co. of North Huntingdon, were not returned.

McNeilly said police zones used to handle valet parking permits, but Harper took control when he became chief.

“It makes me angry. I'm not saying Harper doesn't deserve his share of the blame, but everyone else is not innocent, either. Everyone wants to push it all off on him, but it's not that simple,” McNeilly said.

Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or jboren@tribweb.com.

 

 

 
 


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