Wichita police: Some Tea Party protesters were warned away from city lot

A Wichita police captain said Wednesday that parking officers warned about 30 tea party protesters away from a permit-only city lot before writing 45 tickets at $35 apiece to others who parked there.

On Wednesday, The Eagle reported that Municipal Court records showed at least 71 tickets were written in the vicinity of City Hall during the April 15 demonstration. Court officials said more tickets may surface during the week.

Protesters gathered just north of the city building to protest taxes, national health-care legislation, city spending and other issues.

Tea party organizers said enforcement of the parking-permit restrictions was unexpected and, they think, unwarranted, because they had paid the city $750 to close the adjacent street and there were few city employees using the lot during the 5-6:30 p.m. demonstration.

Last Thursday, police Capt. Troy Livingston said two ambassadors — the city's term for its parking-enforcement officers — were working around the protest.

Livingston said organizers had told police to expect as many as 2,000 demonstrators.

About 850 people registered on sign-in sheets at the event, said Lynda Tyler of Kansans for Liberty, who organized the event.

Livingston said police "were concerned there could be some public safety issues" related to parking at the demonstration, such as people parking too close to corners and blocking motorists' view of oncoming traffic.

While the ambassadors were there looking for those issues, city employees reported that people from the tea party were parking without permits in the lot at the Rounds & Porter building, an old city-owned warehouse that police use for evidence storage, Livingston said.

The lot, at the southwest corner of the segment of Central that was closed for the tea party, is primarily used as parking for City Hall employees during the day.

At its entrances are signs stating that the lot is permit-only and that violators could be towed.

When they arrived, the ambassadors "spoke to about 30 citizens and educated them about not parking in that lot," Livingston said.

All those people left, except "one individual who told them to 'just go ahead and give me a ticket,' " he said.

Regarding the others who were ticketed, Livingston said the lot was posted for permit-only parking and police are charged with enforcing the city ordinance.

If the tea party organizers wanted to use the lot, he said, arrangements should have been made in advance.

He said the parking officers have "a tough job" requiring them to balance their responsibility to enforce parking ordinances with using discretion and dealing with public expectations of when ordinances won't be enforced.

"I'm not sure that zero enforcement is a reasonable expectation," he said.

Tyler, who has organized several other tea parties over the past year, said she's planning on moving the gatherings out of downtown because of the parking problems at last week's event and at a winter tea party held at the Century II Convention Center.

John Todd, who attended last week's tea party and had helped organize previous events, said he thinks that "from a PR standpoint, the city lost" by issuing the tickets.

"They blew an opportunity in dealing with citizens," he said. "That was a mistake."

Two members of the City Council who attended last week's tea party, Sue Schlapp and Jeff Longwell, both said the officers had the authority to write the tickets.

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