Mayor Shayne Gallo said this week he was simply responding to the wishes of business owners when he rescinded an executive order last week granting free parking at all metered spaces in Kingston.
The controversy, which aroused allegations of Grinch-like behavior on social media, began on Dec. 9 when Gallo issued the executive order suspending meter enforcement starting on Dec. 14 and running through January 1. Hours later, the order was amended to start off the free parking immediately. “This will allow holiday shoppers and visitors to the City to park at no charge in the Uptown, Midtown and Downtown business districts where there is metered parking,” Gallo wrote. “We encourage residents and visitors to shop local and this is a perfect opportunity to visit the many fine boutiques, specialty shops and restaurants that are located in the business districts without worry of getting a parking ticket for expired time on meters.” The notice was sent to local media outlets and posted on the Kingston Police Department’s Facebook page.
But the next day, without explanation, the executive order was revoked. Media got an e-mailed copy of the original order with “Rescinded” written in red at the top. On Facebook, the original order was posted with the red-lettered “rescinded” splashed across the face. Gallo offered no explanation for the sudden turnaround until this week when an official press release cited feedback from the Kingston Uptown Business Association as the reason for the reversal.
KUBA President Jane Garrity said KUBA members had reached out to the mayor back in January to ask him not to enact free parking this year. Garrity said business owners had complained that people who live and work Uptown used the meter holiday to take up spots all day, rather than using free parking available all day in “The Crater” municipal lot on Schwenk Drive. As a result, Garrity said, visitors and shoppers Uptown had an ever harder time than usual finding parking close to shops and restaurants.
Garrity said she and other KUBA members were taken by surprise by the executive order. “It was a good intention that kind of backfired,” said Garrity. “I can’t speak for the mayor as to why he did it then undid it.”
The no-free parking edict came down just as work began on replacement of a staircase linking the Schwenk Drive lot with the heart of the Uptown Business District on North Front Street. Gallo ordered the existing staircase closed in 2012, citing its poor condition and liability concerns. Since then, parkers have had to mount a steep hill to reach the Stockade District from the municipal lot. The project this week closed off parking in a portion of the lot, but City Engineer Ralph Swenson said he expects the new staircase to be complete by Friday when city officials plan to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony.