March 25 2009 12:00 AM

Free parking for City Council at City Hall isn’t considered a fringe enough benefit to cut.

While the Elected Officers Compensation Committee finalized its recommendation to the City Council Monday for benefits and pay for the city’s elected officials, there was one benefit it didn’t touch: free parking.

For what ordinary citizens pay up to $140 per month for in nearby cityowned ramps, City Council members and department heads are given free in the basement of City Hall.

The issue of free parking for Council came up during the commission’s meetings over the last seven weeks as commissioners waded through the fringe benefits afforded to Council, including health and dental benefits and retirement funds. Bill Castanier, vice chairman of the EOCC, said the commission "didn’t want to take up parking at this time."

At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood said the benefit has always been in place for Council members as far as she is aware. Wood makes regular use of her space, noting she essentially works a full-time schedule on the 10th floor.

First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt addressed head-on the rumor that he parks in his City Hall space everyday while at work at a nearby state office building.

"Yep," he said when asked. He says it is a space provided to him 24 hours a day, for which he is provided a permit, and he says no one else is supposed to be parking in his spot anyhow, so it really doesn’t make a difference.

Wood offered her take, saying, "(Council President) Derrick Quinney does the same thing when he has business at the Capitol. (Former
First Ward Councilman) Harold Leeman used to store a car there, and
still drive to meetings."

Quinney confirmed that he sometimes uses his
space, as did Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Kaltenbach. Other members of
Council were unable to be reached to verify that they use their free

In the grand scheme, free parking isn’t the most posh
benefit the Council has ever been given. Chief Deputy City Attorney
Jack Roberts, who has acted as counsel to the EOCC, said that back in
the 1970s, Council and department heads were provided with a new Olds
88 every two years for personal use.

at Monday’s EOCC meeting, the commission voted to cut every fringe
benefit possible for Council, sparing retirement benefits.

EOCC’s plan, which goes into effect unless at least five Council
members vote against it, rejects Bernero’s call for a 5 percent pay cut
for Council, and raises the salary of City Clerk Chris Swope by 5
percent. (The EOCC found that Swope’s salary was a lot less than what
city clerks in comparable cities make.) However, Bernero would still
get a 5 percent cut under the EOCC’s plan. The commission elected to
Bernero’s recommendations for his and the clerk’s
health benefits, altering the amount of money each will be required to
pay in terms of co-pays and emergency room visits.

The final recommendation — with free parking intact — will be signed by the commission at its Monday meeting.