I don’t live in Harrisburg but visit our state Capitol often in my role as a citizen lobbyist. I do this at my own expense, a significant part being parking. On-street is much cheaper than the garage but still $1.50/hr in the immediate area can add up and there’s always the risk of a ticket. It is from this perspective that the appearance of one parking spot just a block west of the Capitol caught my attention.
Curiosity began with a Google search that quickly found answers that posed more questions. A story in the Central Pa Business Journal November 21, 2012 indicated the charger was sponsored by Sutliff Chevrolet with the involvement of WCI Partners and its managing partner Alex Hartzler, a Harrisburg real estate developer. Hartzler’s firm developed the five story building outside which the EV charger was installed. Also Hartzler has a connection to electric vehicles as the owner of an ultra high end Tesla. The report said the charger cost $15000 to buy and install, was available to the public with no charge for parking but a two hour limit applied. The black Volt was plugged in over 7 hrs most days. What was meant by “sponsored”? Was the city or Parking Authority being reimbursed for revenue forgone by having no meter? Was the city paid a fee for the right to claim sponsorship? Why was there never a parking ticket on the black Volt for exceeding the 2hr limit? What if I parked my non electric car there? Who receives the payments for electricity used? Were any public funds part of the $15000 installation cost? Who owns and maintains the car charger? I wanted to know a lot more.
I called WCI Partners, explained my concerns, left contact information, was told Mr Hartzler would get back to me but he did not return the call. I visited Mr Richard Kotz, head of the Harrisburg Parking Authority. He said he would look into the situation, being aware of no agreements with the Parking Authority concerning the spot in question. I talked with Parking Enforcement. They said they wondered about that spot since the charger was installed but were never told anything about it and could not enforce any rules without signs being posted. No one seemed to know anything so I decided to ramp things up.
Prior to presenting a Right to Know request to the city I sent Mr Hartzler an email since his address was right there on the WCI Partners website. I presented my questions and asked that he either respond by email or call me. Later the same day he called. In that conversation he confirmed that he put the charger there as something nice to do for the community. He claimed that all payments pass through, that he makes nothing, which at $.15 per kwh is easy to accept. He also said that the city is not losing any parking revenue since there never was a parking meter or parking spot at that location prior to the charger’s installation. He also informed me that signs were now placed saying “Electric Vehicle Only” and “2 Hour Limit” along with one that says “Sponsored by Sutliff Chevrolet”. Keep in mind this is all happening in the public right of way, normally used for on-street parking under the direction of a city or its Parking Authority. Surely arrangements must have been made with the city, if not its Parking Authority.
The next day, Tuesday July 9, I personally delivered a Right to Know request to the City of Harrisburg. I asked what I had asked of the Parking Authority with a few additions. This was my request:
1) Any and all records of correspondence, meeting minutes, or any public records produced in connection with the approval of installation of Electric Vehicle (EV) charger and designation of parking space as free of charge on State St at 2nd Street, within the public right of way, normally considered on-street parking, especially agreements between the City of Harrisburg and developer J Alex Hartzler, WCI Partners, Greg Sutliff, or Sutliff Chevrolet, arrived at either in public forum by elected officials or privately by city agencies or employees.
2) Agreement as to reimbursement to the city for forgone parking revenue in absence of parking meter.
3) Terms of public use of above mentioned parking space and electric charger.
4) Usage records of EV charger since Fall 2012 installation and identification of payee for electricity consumed.
5) Owner of Electric Charger and who is responsible for upkeep and servicing.
As with the Parking Authority, the City of Harrisburg dutifully responded. Also, as with the Authority no records could be produced related to the charger or the now suddenly signed parking space. How is it possible that one citizen or a small group acting alone could be making public policy, installing EV chargers or hanging signs in a public right of way without permission? Also in my phone conversation with Mr Hartzler he suggested that because I don’t live in Harrisburg, I have no standing in this issue. But what if Hartzler, WCI Partners or Sutliff shared in grants from the state DEP that are available for electric vehicle charger installations as did Amerigreen Energy of Lancaster, as outlined in another CPBJ article? Then every citizen of the state would have standing, beyond the absolute right of anyone to merely be curious or ask questions. Taking public money should, after all, also involve taking what comes with it.
Note: This post shared to WatchdogWire-Pennsylvania