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Parking Pivot: Neighborhood Services Officers

Posted on September 22, 2020


Jeff Petry with team of parking services

This article was written by Jeff Petry, Director of Administration in the Planning and Development Department at the City of Eugene. Jeff wrote this article as part of the Crisis Management Cohort with Drucker Institute. Read all the articles from the cohort here. Connect with Jeff on email.


Hello! My name is Jeff Petry and I work for the City of Eugene. I am currently in an Acting in Capacity role as the Director of Administration in the Planning and Development Department AND working in my underlying position as the City of Eugene’s Parking Manager. I oversee our department’s finance team, administration team, and technology services as well as the Waste Prevention Program and Parking Services. I am also fortunate to work on special projects, such as co-lead for our smart city program and downtown wayfinding project. 

This pandemic has created several waves of mini work crisis for me. The first wave was the global realization of a pandemic and how or organization supports our community and continue to do essential job functions. An equal priority was the safety of our teams and learning how to work remotely. For my division, we were able to utilize our organization’s resources to figure out how to pay invoices, sign contracts, pay employees, stand up emergency operation’s center support, and stabilize our day to day tasks. For the parking manager side of my job, we stopped enforcement, which set a team adrift without their core job duty to do. However, we were able to deploy parking officers to drive the neighborhoods and garages to provide additional eyes on the street and others were able to provide needed help on our community outreach teams. Further, the parking team also stood up a free “Grab and Go” parking space program throughout our downtown and campus areas to support local businesses. 

My second mini-crisis started in May as I turned to the Parking Enterprise Fund’s financials. In March, parking revenue dropped to almost zero for hourly and daily parking due to the pandemic and stay at home orders. We also stopped issuing parking tickets and event parking revenue disappeared. We actively working with our commercial tenants to apply for loans and grants to pay rent, as well as implementing a forbearance lease payment plan for many of the businesses. Fortunately, our parking garages had waitlists and demand stayed constant for our commuter parking permits. As the fiscal year came to an end, our $8 million Parking Enterprise Fund used up all reserves and recorded a negative $1.3 million deficit! The fund was in financial crisis and the opportunity to join this crisis cohort seemed to be fortunate timing.  

This cohort has filled a critical need for me to process all our new reality. Its format of very short assignments using mixed media to convey core topics was a brilliant learning format. The cohort provided fixed check-in points, weekly opportunities to check in with all the cohorts, and a self-learning pace. Here are the three most important takeaways from the cohort:

  1. New Reality – Our first lesson talked about “Facing the new realities” and letting go of past assumptions that drove your former reality. The concept of letting go of the past and facing new realities struck home immediately with me. I was preparing a financial presentation to the executive team and focused on the new realities not on the vision prior to COVID. In creating the financial forecast, the new reality thinking looked at the revenue experience over the previous three months to forecast out the next twelve months. With this realistic assumption, I could then make expenditure adjustments work towards a balanced parking budget. This reality check was needed to shift my thinking to the new reality and pivot the program to a new vision. We were not able to balance the fund, but that created a different lesson to apply from the cohort.

 

  1. The Integrative Thinking module created the mindset to explore a new role for the program. Two-thirds of the parking staff are field workers, such as parking officers and parking technicians. During the first few months of the pandemic, our officers were not enforcing but several volunteered for community outreach and supported emergency operations in various roles. The orthogonal relationship between parking enforcement and community support was my competing values moment and a new integrated idea emerged around using the resources of parking enforcement to support the community. The concept of a “Neighborhood Services Officer” took hold and has gained traction. Our parking officers do not wear badges and dresses more like resort ambassadors. We have bright green, all-electric vehicles to stand out in the crowd. Our goal is to engage and educate our customers and hopefully not write a parking ticket. The integrated thinking posed the question of could parking officers, which have code enforcement duties across the city, be used to take work off the Police and Public Works Departments for engaging the unhoused population in tents and vehicles in the right of way? 

 

  1. To help launch this integrated idea, the Decision-Making Framework was utilized. Working through the “Effective Decision Making” process, redeploying parking staff is a necessary decision if funding could be found (as of today, looks like a yes!) and the problem was well defined in our community to engage and provide support to those that are unhoused. We had buy-in from the Executive Team to pursue the idea and are now working to create the program (action step). We will now test the decision against results with a six to twelve-month pilot. 

The pandemic has created an unrealized potential to utilize our parking team to provide a greater service to our community.  It supports social justice initiatives to offload duties from police services and assists our Public Works teams. We can pivot an entire municipal parking service to one that supports our overall neighborhoods and community members. That is a new reality!

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