Lum: Hire Sherlock Holmes
October 1, 2014
A couple of decades ago, a major chain letter began circulating in Basalt and quickly wildfired its way up and down the valley. In this variation on an old theme, the chain asked the recipients of the letter to pony up $1,200 to the person on the bottom of their list.
My father was a mathematician, so, having been taught a thing or two about the odds, I didn't partake, but a few people ended up rolling in dough, and a whole lot more didn't get a dime and were absolutely livid at their friends and neighbors who had talked them into it.
While it lasted, it was the best-kept secret in Aspen. People crept around under the cloak of darkness receiving and delivering bags of cash; businesses turned their back rooms into speakeasy mini-banks.
When the whole thing imploded, there was private talk of revenge and public talk of a police investigation. The latter, of course, came to naught. Chain letters are illegal, but don't even go there.
I imagine that the whole idea of bringing to justice all the people who scammed the parking meters will be dropped as soon as the fur stops flying. It's too big, too many people were involved, the individual amounts taken are too puny, and there isn't a net big enough to snare more than a tiny fraction of the perpetrators.
Again, I can claim innocence. Not to be smug or holier than thou about it, but only because I have a handicapped parking pass, which, I must say, is the only and a very beloved benefit of my condition(s). Also, I didn't even know about it because (ahem) nobody tells me anything now that I've retired and dropped off the grapevine.
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I have mixed feelings about the whole deal except for one part: I strongly think that an unbiased investigator should look into this matter and determine how it went undiscovered (or unreported) for years.
I am not suggesting open malfeasance, but you would have a hard time convincing me that the Parking Department has it together.
Months ago, I wrote a column about a ticket my daughter Hillery got for parking a total of a half hour in front of my house in a two-hour zone. I did not go to the Parking Department to get Hillery's ticket "fixed" but to give the department a chance to defend themselves before I wrote about it.
Parking czar Tim Ware offered to waive Hillery's ticket, which she had already officially contested, but the case has yet to be closed. Hillery calls the people at the Parking Department every time she's coming to Aspen, and they say, "Oh, hi, Hillery. Hang on. Let me check" and then come back and tell her, "No, sorry, that case is still open." I mean really, guys.
Is this the city department that is supposed to have our respect and compliance, or is this the city department that views the driving public — worker bees and visitors alike — as the enemy? If the Parking Department doesn't even notice a loss of $56,000 per month, I wonder who is the cat and who is the mouse in this sad game.
So yes, hire whoever is the best Sherlock Holmes around so the public can learn once and for all not only how it happened but just what the income and outgo is in the Parking Department. Because part of the problem is the perception that the Parking Department is so wallowing in money that it would be no surprise that it wouldn't notice a half-million dollars gone missing — which turned out to be true.
The defense that no other departments need watching was naive. There is plenty of room for misused funds in all of them (remember the city's credit-card scandal?); it's just that the Parking Department was the only one that the people could scam back.
Su Lum is a longtime local who is glad she didn't have to face the temptation. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at email@example.com.