Parking monitor finds rewards in an often-thankless job
Gordy Sather is taking his time as he punches in the information to kick out a parking ticket. He's parked on the side of Minnesota Avenue, the lights on his modified Duluth police vehicle flashing, half-hoping -- or at least waiting -- for the v...
Gordy Sather is taking his time as he punches in the information to kick out a parking ticket.
He's parked on the side of Minnesota Avenue, the lights on his modified Duluth police vehicle flashing, half-hoping -- or at least waiting -- for the van's owner to run out and move the vehicle with the small-business logo before he finishes writing a ticket for violating the city's calendar parking law.
Sather is one of four parking enforcement officers in the city, and he can understand why a repairman would want to park as close as possible to the drain in need of flushing. It's just that this parking spot is off-limits.
"I won't go up to the house, but if someone comes out I'm going to void this ticket," Sather said.
No such luck. Sather finishes writing out the $21 ticket, slips it beneath a windshield wiper and drives off.
Sather has been doing this for 24 years. He's kept a job that makes him an easy target for derision and anger, a job where he occasionally is threatened with physical harm. A downtown restaurant owner once tried to bribe Sather with an offer of one free pizza a month if Sather would agree not to ticket him or his employees.
Oh, yeah, and there was the time Sather was nearly killed by a runaway truck and trailer while on the job.
Sather still is recovering from that incident, when he was thrown from one of the department's small, three-wheeled scooters as he drove along Second Street in November 2005. The incident left him with a broken arm, a broken leg and two permanently injured fingers. He returned to desk work in August 2006 and is gradually easing back into full-time patrolling.
Despite all that, this is a job Sather feels comfortable with. It comes with good pay and good benefits. He knows that few people -- OK, hardly anyone, ever -- are happy to see him, and the job can get a bit monotonous. But there are moments when he feels like he's contributing to the greater good: when he can help someone locked out of their vehicle, or someone who needs police attention.
Sather is of the "what goes around comes around" school of thought. If he is as pleasant, honest and fair as possible in issuing parking tickets, Sather said, perhaps people will extend the same courtesy to him.
When Sather pulled up alongside another calendar parking violator on Minnesota Avenue, he noticed a young man working on a nearby condominium. Sather asked if the offending vehicle belonged to the man. It did; he agreed to move it, and Sather drove away.
On another street, however, a woman sat on her porch and watched while Sather wrote out a ticket for a red truck parked on the wrong side of the street. It was only after Sather got out of his car with the completed ticket that she wanted to argue -- the truck belonged to her friend; he had parked for just a minute and he'd be right out.
Sorry, Sather told her. Too late. Sather does have the authority to void any ticket he writes, but he's less likely to do that if someone doesn't have a compelling reason for violating the law. If your car broke down and the tow truck is on the way, that's reasonable. If you don't want to walk across the street, that's not.
And if you still think being a parking enforcement monitor belongs in the "world's worst jobs" category, consider this: The last time the Duluth Police Department had an opening for two new parking monitors, Sather said, more than 200 people applied for the job.