October 9, 2013

Parking Officer Fired After Investigation Reveals Favoritism

Parking enforcement officer Chris Boutote was fired Monday following an internal investigation into allegations that, in exchange for free food and drink, he allowed employees of local businesses to park in metered spots without paying. A second officer, John Hughes, is to meet with Princeton municipal administrator Robert Bruschi today to be told his fate.

“It’s likely he won’t lose his job, but will be given a significant suspension without pay,” Mr. Bruschi said Tuesday. “He’ll face demotion to his former job, which was parking attendant in the garage.” Mr. Hughes will not be terminated because he was not involved to the same degree as Mr. Boutote, Mr. Bruschi said.

A story on the news website Planet Princeton first reported last month that the two meter readers were looking the other way while employees of Olive’s, Triumph Brewery, and D’Angelo’s Market, among other businesses, were parking without paying, often for hours at a time. Both Mr. Boutote and Mr. Hughes were immediately suspended without pay for two weeks after the story appeared.

Parking is at a premium in the downtown business district, and most meters are for two hours or less. Members of the public who park at meters and allow them to run over are almost always promptly ticketed. But employees of the businesses who placed menus, coasters, shopping bags, and other identifying items on their dashboards were left alone. According to Planet Princeton, one law enforcement source estimated that between 50 and 75 employees of downtown businesses were benefitting from the situation.

The website also reported that observers who noticed the vehicles not being ticketed contacted the police, but were informed that there was nothing the police could do. After the story came out, the Princeton police department began an internal investigation to make sure no sworn officers were involved. No evidence has emerged to link officers to the actions, Mr. Bruschi said last week.

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office was notified about the case and would become involved if criminal charges were made. Mr. Boutote is a retired police officer who earned $48,109 a year as a parking meter officer. Mr. Hughes earns $44,000.