From what I now understand, the City of Chicago Department of Revenue -- much like pretty much every other department in the City -- is comprised of self-entitled, undereducated morons whose complete lack of marketable skills has ensured that the only place they can get a job is, in fact, the City of Chicago -- the modern model in inefficienct and apathetic working environments. While employed with the City, the aforementioned self-entitled morons, no matter what their job title, are tasked with one -- and only one -- job: wield what little power they actually have for the sole purpose of pissing off the citizens of Chicago at every opportunity.
With that in mind, let me tell you a funny little story about how a collections law firm came to know me. It all began innocently on September 6, 2005. I was living in Ohio at the time, but visiting Chicago for the Labor Day weekend. I had parked on Diversey a few blocks from Ari's old place, where Jessie and I were staying. I received a ticket for allegedly parking in a "No Stand, Park Anytime" zone. However, Rhonda -- my 1991 red Honda Accord -- was parked directly under a sign stating that the parking zone was "No Parking Mondays-Fridays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m." I received the ticket at 11:15 a.m. on a Tuesday (i.e., not between 4 and 6 p.m.). Believing the back of the ticket, which stated that I could contest my ticket by mail, I took a couple pictures of my car under the sign and a close-up shot of the sign itself, wrote a well-crafted letter to the City of Chicago Department of Revenue explaining that the ticket was issued in error and enclosing the pictures. I never again heard anything about it from the City of Chicago Department of Revenue, so I assumed I had successfully challenged the ticket.
In late April 2006, Jester and I moved from Dayton to Chicago. On the advice of the fine people at the City of Chicago's parking operations, we bought several booklets of temporary daily residential parking passes rather than a permanent residential sticker because we could buy a new sticker for the next year on June 1. Not wanting to receive parking tickets, I applied said daily passes to my windshield. These passes are 24-hour passes, and you must write on the pass the date and the time of day when you put the sticker on your windshield. I did that.
On May 5, 2006, I received this ticket at 6:26 p.m. for not having a residential permit. Of course, I had a daily pass with a date and time on it of May 4, 2006 6:30 p.m., meaning that the pass was valid for the 24-hour period from 6:30 p.m. on May 4 until 6:30 p.m. on May 5. Thanks. I took a picture of the pass, wrote another letter to the City of Chicago Department of Revenue, and timely mailed in my challenge. Again, I never heard anything from the City of Chicago Department of Revenue to indicate that the ticket was outstanding.
A few days later, on May 8, 2006, I received pretty much the exact same ticket, although this one was at 6:11 p.m., and the daily pass said 7:15 p.m. on it. Why would the officer read the time when he has a quota to make? Again, I took a picture of the pass, wrote a letter to the City of Chicago Department of Revenue, mailed it in, and never heard anything about it.
On June 2, 2006, Jester and I purchased our permanent City of Chicago sticker and permanent residential parking sticker and affixed them to Rhonda. We had to show our lease as proof that we were living in the City in order to receive both stickers. Now, you would think that having valid, current stickers would mean that one couldn't receive any tickets for not having the aforementioned valid, current stickers. Well, in any other city in the world, you might be right. Two days in a row -- June 7 and 8 -- I received tickets for not having a residential parking permit. I was baffled. In fact, I was so confused as to why I had received two tickets that I went to my Alderman's office to purchase additional temporary daily passes. When I explained what had happened to the receptionist, she told me that I should not have received either one of those tickets and that I did not need temporary stickers because I had a residential sticker. My Alderman then wrote a letter to the City explaining that I had received the tickets in error, which I included in the envelope that included my contest of both tickets. In addition, my Alderman called the commanding police officer of the precinct or unit that was responsible for patrolling my block (who also agreed with that I should not have received either ticket) and told him to tell his officers not to write any more tickets for vehicles with valid residential permit stickers. That would seem to be obvious.
My Alderman told me to contest both tickets at once. He suggested that I present them both in person to a Hearing Officer at the City's parking office on Addison. When I attempted to do so on Saturday June 10, I was informed that the Hearing Officer was only present from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Of course. At that time, I worked downtown from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. everyday, and I had bar review classes from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Chicago-Kent Law School, so I was unable to contest the tickets in person within the seven-day limit. Therefore, instead, I contested the tickets via mail, following the instructions on the tickets and the orange envelope in which the tickets came. I enclosed a letter to the City of Chicago Department of Revenue, two photographs showing the valid stickers affixed to Rhonda, my receipt for purchasing the stickers, and the letter from my Alderman. As you might have guessed, I never received any notice from the City of Chicago Department of Revenue about either ticket.
In July 2006, I sat for the Illinois bar exam, a delightful little test required of any man or woman who wishes to legally practice law in this State. As part of the application for the bar exam, I was required to submit what's called a "Character and Fitness" questionnaire. Despite its title, it does not have anything to do with your flexed arm hang time or how many sit-ups you can do in a minute. Question number 50 on that questionnaire asked, "Do you have any outstanding parking violations? If yes, Explain. Fully explain the facts, including without limitation the number of such tickets, ticketing authority, dates incurred, and the amounts claimed due. If you are currently contesting any such outstanding parking ticket(s), explain in detail the basis upon which you are contesting each ticket." I initially filled out the questionnaire in late May 2006, at which time I had only three outstanding tickets. I explained the circumstances of each ticket and that I had contested each ticket but not yet heard back from the City.
After I submitted my initial application (but before I was contacted by the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar), I received the two tickets in June 2006. At some point after I had received those tickets, the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar contacted me in response to the outstanding parking tickets I had listed on my questionnaire. They asked that I provide proof that I had no outstanding parking tickets. I called the City of Chicago Department of Revenue to see how I would go about doing that, and they informed that their website contained a search engine for outstanding tickets. Any outstanding ticket would be on there, or so I was told by the City of Chicago Department of Revenue.
Thus, I conducted several searches on the City of Chicago Department of Revenue parking ticket search page, in order to ensure that none of my alleged violations were outstanding. I searched by my Ohio license plate number using several variations of my last name. I also searched under my Ohio drivers license number. There were no search results under any of the searches. Not a single violation was listed -- not the ticket received in September 2005, not the two tickets received in May 2006, and not the two tickets received in June 2006. I printed the results for each search and sent them to the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar. I received no further inquiry about the issue from the Board, I was allowed to sit for the July 2006 Illinois Bar Exam, I passed my Character and Fitness, and I passed the Bar Exam, none of which would have been allowed if I had outstanding parking tickets.
In October 2006, I traded Rhonda in (along with some additional funds) for The Blaab, registering The Blaab with the State of Illinois.
On June 9, 2008, I received five letters from Arnold Scott Harris, P.C. The letters indicated that all of the previously mentioned five parking tickets were outstanding and that there had been an administrative judgment issued against me for each ticket, thereby doubling the fine for each ticket. Thus, according to the letters, I owed the City of Chicago Department of Revenue $500, rather than the $0 I should have owed or even the $250 total fines for all five tickets.
I didn't take kindly to these letters, so on June 10, I called Arnold Scott Harris and explained that I had contested all five of the tickets, but had never heard anything from anyone (including the City of Chicago Department of Revenue) until the five letters I received the day before. The woman told me to call the City of Chicago Department of Revenue to figure it out.
I called the City of Chicago Department of Revenue and was patched through to a "research specialist." Knowing the caliber of intelligence of City workers, I assume that means someone who is capable of typing letters and numbers into a form. I explained my situation, noting that I never received any notices from the City of Chicago Department of Revenue or anyone else stating that I had lost my challenges or that there was a hearing or, say, a judgment entered against me until those five letters the day before from Arnold Scott Harris. He told me that the City of Chicago Department of Revenue had not received ANY of my challenges. And why wouldn't they, given that the U.S. mail is only delivered six days a week?
He then explained why I never received any notices. BECAUSE THE FUCKING CITY OF CHICAGO DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE SENT EVERY NOTICE TO OHIO. Confused, I asked why they would do that. Because that's where the car was registered when you got the tickets. When was the most recent notice sent to Ohio? I'm not even kidding when I say that the motherfucker told me "April 2008." I told him I hadn't lived in Ohio since April 2006 and that I had purchased a City of Chicago sticker in June 2006 and registered my car with Illinois at some point around then. He said that they just send notices to the registration address at the time the ticket is issued. I then asked what I thought was a legitimate question: "Well then how did Arnold Scott Harris know my current address?" He didn't really have a legitimate answer, other than I had registered a car (even though it wasn't Rhonda) at that address. This, of course, doesn't explain why I never received any notices at my old address in Chicago after I registered Rhonda and The Blaab there.
He also told me that everything had reached a final determination, so there was no way to appeal or reverse the fines. I told him that was unacceptable. To humor me, he told me I could fax a letter explaining my situation, as well as any supporting materials, to the City of Chicago Department of Revenue. On June 11, I sent a scathing letter to the City of Chicago Department of Revenue fax number, detailing the circumstances of each ticket, my challenge to each ticket, and the fact that nothing had shown up online, ever. I also included copies of every letter I had previously sent, nearly every picture, and a copy of the search results for the various potential search options with no results. Hell, I even re-ran all of the searches on the City of Chicago Department of Revenue website to make sure that none of them were showing up. I ran the same searches I did for the bar exam, as well as searches under my Illinois drivers license number. Nothing came up. So even though I received a letter the day before telling me that these tickets were outstanding, the tickets were not showing up, meaning that even if I WANTED to pay the tickets at any point over the past two to three years, a search of the City of Chicago Department of Revenue's own website would have led me to believe that I had no outstanding parking violations. Fucking brilliant.
As you can imagine, I was livid, and my letter reflected my anger. Here are a couple snippets:
"[T]here is no legitimate reason why the City continued to send notices to Ohio or why I never received any sort of notice before this week -- several years after all of the alleged violations. Clearly someone was able to find my current address because the five notices from Arnold Scott Harris were sent to my current address. It is nothing short of remarkable that these Notices are the first correspondence sent from the City to have reached me regarding any of these five parking tickets, much less all five."I enclosed all of the letters I wrote to the City of Chicago Department of Revenue contesting the various tickets, all but two of the photographs (which I had deleted since I hadn't heard anything about the first ticket in nearly three years), the search results from the City of Chicago Department of Revenue website showing no outstanding tickets, and the excerpt of my character and fitness questionnaire explaining the contested tickets.
. . . .
"Furthermore, it is unbelievable that the City claims that it did not receive any of these contests by mail. And I do not mean "unbelievable" in the superlative sense of the word. I mean that I honestly do not believe that the City received none of these contests by mail. I sent four separate mailings, each with the proper postage, sent in the orange ticket envelopes provided with the respective tickets. None of the envelopes were ever returned to me, which indicates that they were in fact delivered to the City of Chicago Department of Revenue. If the Department of Revenue has a problem receiving U.S. mail, a problem processing the mail it receives, a problem posting and maintaining a record of outstanding tickets on their online search engine, and a problem sending notices to the correct address (or even the correct state), then perhaps the Department should reevaluate their mechanisms for receiving ticket contests and for notifying alleged outstanding ticket violators, rather than evasively attempt to collect funds from ill-gotten tickets without any due process."
We all know how this story ends, since I wouldn't be writing this post if it were a happy ending. It took the City of Chicago Department of Revenue less than a day to completely ignore my letter and the supporting documents. This past Saturday (June 14), I received a letter from Arnold Scott Harris that basically said, "We received your letter. Nice try. Pay up or we'll boot and/or impound your car."
Still foolishly believing that there is a decent human being that works for the City of Chicago Department of Revenue, I called Arnold Scott Harris to figure out my options and to see if anyone had actually read anything I wrote. They again directed me to call the City of Chicago Department of Revenue, which I did.
This call with the City of Chicago Department of Revenue went about how you would expect it to go. They feigned ignorance about receiving any of the challenges. I inquired about all of the notices they sent me. The woman told me that they were sent to the first address where I lived when I moved to Ohio, which she says they got from the Ohio Secretary of State. Even that is wrong because I registered Rhonda with my new address in Dayton after Jessie and I got married. That didn't seem to faze this woman because, "Sir, we just went by what your Secretary of State gave us." Again, I asked what I still feel is the most legitimate question in all of this: "So you just kept sending any and all notices to that address and you never checked to see if I had moved?" Of course they hadn't. "But I did move, and I registered with the City of Chicago when I moved here in order to get a city sticker, and I registered my car with the State of Illinois, and when I traded that car in, I registered the new car with the State of Illinois in October 2006. I was told notices were sent to the old Ohio address as recently as April 2008. How come I didn't receive any notices in the two-plus years I've lived in Chicago until last week?" Her answer: "We just send the notices to the first address we get and we don't ever check to see if the person moved." I asked, "So if someone moves out of state, like I did, how are they ever supposed to get notice?" Her answer: "Forward your mail." My response: "I did, and I still never received anything." Her answer: "Well, we just send them to the first address we get from your Secretary of State." Are you fist fucking me? "No, sir, we're skull fucking you," says the City of Chicago Department of Revenue, "And quite flippantly at that." Essentially, the City of Chicago Department of Revenue is doing everything it can to ensure that you have no notice or knowledge of anything regarding your tickets until after a final hearing has been conducted.
I asked the woman if she could send me copies of all of the notices the City sent me (read: an address where I haven't lived since 2004) over the years. She said that she could, but, predictably, it will take 10 days. I asked her what I should do in the meantime, as I don't want my car to be booted and/or impounded. She said that I would have to enter into a payment plan and then they couldn't boot and/or impound my car, and to call Arnold Scott Harris to set that up.
I called Arnold Scott Harris and spoke with a rather nice woman (apparently City contractors can occasionally act in a courteous manner) to set up a payment plan. She said, "It looks like you have 6 tickets for a total of $620." I said, "No, it's 5 tickets for a total of $500." She then told me that another ticket I received -- two weeks ago on June 2 -- was showing up. I told her I had contested that by mail (which I had). She said that it didn't show up as contested. Of course not. What was fascinating about this one was that there were 2 other wrongly received tickets that I contested in the same envelope, yet she had no record whatsoever of those tickets in the system. Not a trace. Huh? I'm too livid to try to comprehend what that could possibly mean.
And the best part is that she told me I can't start a payment plan for less than all of my outstanding tickets. Outstanding, indeed! Oh, and just to kick sand in my already-bloody-and-battered eyes, she told me that, since my total was more than $500, I had to put a minimum of $500 down to start a payment plan. You don't say? So the City of Chicago Department of Revenue managed to fail to receive yet another ticket, which conveniently meant that I would have to pay off at least the value of all of my previously issued outstanding tickets. Touché. I just went ahead and paid the full $620 because what's another dick when you're already getting gang raped, right? So now I have gained the fucking privilege of not having my car booted and/or impounded because of the City of Chicago Department of Revenue is incapable of accepting U.S. mail.
I am still baffled that not a single challenge made it to the City of Chicago Department of Revenue by mail. As I said in the letter, I frankly do not believe that they never received them. The City of Chicago Department of Revenue has no incentive to process contested tickets by mail. Why would they when they can just throw the challenges away, pretend they never received them, and then charge twice the amount later on without ever sending a notice to the car owner's current address? It's a fail-safe system for making money, and I would not be surprised if there is an informal policy within the City of Chicago Department of Revenue of "accidentally misplacing" ticket challenges received by mail. How else do you explain "not receiving" five separate envelopes?
The worst part about all of this is that I am absolutely helpless at this stage. All I can do is write about it on a blog that maybe 14 or 15 people read, with the hope that no one else will fall prey to the heartless, blind machine that is the City of Chicago Department of Revenue. Even though I followed the instructions and timely contested each ticket, now I either pay the fine or my car gets booted and/or impounded. I will pretty much have to sue the City in order to get any of this money back. Frankly, it's not worth it, and I'm sure the City knows that when ticket challenges "accidentally" disappear upon arrival or when they conveniently send notices to old addresses.
What's even more laughable is that the City of Chicago Department of Revenue's website contains a "City of Chicago Parking and Compliance Violation Bill of Rights." Here are these supposed "rights":
Convenience: Motorists have the right to have access to payment and hearing services. Motorists have the right to conveniently located payment centers, expanded hours of operation, customer service support, mail-in and Web payment options.
--Except that the only time you can contest a ticket in person is Monday through Friday from 8-4, when you are most likely at work or on your way to work. And you can't contest a ticket online because, well, that would make too much sense, and it would mean the City of Chicago Department of Revenue would actually have to admit that it received ticket challenges, rather than ignore them in order to get double the amount, in order to pay the fucking morons who threw away the mailed-in ticket challenges in the first place.
Fairness: Motorists have the right to timely challenge any tickets believed to have been issued in error. Motorists have the right to impartial and independent administrative law officers to review each challenge. Motorist have the right to timely appeal any adverse decision.
--Obviously, this is a fucking lie. And the geniuses obviously don't understand the concept of editing (or, more likely, have yet to fully grasp the concept of "plurals").
Accuracy: Motorists have the right to receive a ticket that is designed to ensure detailed information and provides user-friendly directions.
--At the end of the sentence, it should say "that will in no way result in you being able to challenge your ticket, even if followed properly."
Efficiency: Motorists have the right to prompt service when paying, challenging, or inquiring about tickets. Motorists have the right to have their booted vehicle released within 24 hours of payment of applicable fines and fees.
--This is also an obvious lie, unless "prompt" means two to three years.
Enforcement: Motorists have the right to improved traffic flow and public safety as a result of the City of Chicago actively pursuing penalties and other collection activities against debtors.
--At the end of the sentence, it should continue, "and other motorists who wrongfully received parking tickets and never received notice of their hearings. Die slow, motherfuckers."
Hopefully I have repeated the phrase "City of Chicago Department of Revenue" enough times in this damn post so that when people Google "City of Chicago Department of Revenue," this is one of the highest results. The City of Chicago Department of Revenue is a fucking money-grubbin whore. That's all it is, and that's all it will ever be. There is no such thing as due process with the City of Chicago Department of Revenue. In fact, the City of Chicago Department of Revenue consciously avoids ensuring that potential ticket challengers receive due process by sending notices to addresses that it knows are no longer valid. This way, they can facially claim that they gave you notice, when in reality the City of Chicago Department of Revenue knows damn well that its sole goal is to make sure it gets its money, regardless of whether a ticket was rightfully issued or whether you were rightfully notified of a hearing to determine your liability. The City of Chicago Department of Revenue never has your interests in mind, unless your name is "The City of Chicago Department of Revenue." In case you need an explicit moral to this story, here it is: the City of Chicago Department of Revenue is evil and should never be trusted. If anyone reading this works for the City of Chicago Department of Revenue, please understand that I want nothing more than for you to burn in the depths of hell, where you will spend eternity being forced to deal with people just like you. Get fucked, assholes.