Cary Starr is an optician in downtown Gulfport. He sees a problem when he looks outside his optical shop.
"When did the city of Gulfport turn into a parking lot?," Starr wondered. "That's all it is, is a parking lot for the people that work downtown. There's no place for people to park for the people who are trying to do business downtown."
In January, Gulfport tried to help merchants by changing some of its downtown parking rules. For instance, it turned 13 two-hour spots on 14th Street into one-hour parking spaces. But Starr said, "They aren't enforcing the 13. And I'm not getting any parking over here."
In March, Starr tried to prove that parking time limits weren't being enforced. He parked his truck in a one-hour spot. Nearly two weeks later, he finally got two tickets for overtime parking.
"The game I was trying to get him to do was do his job," Starr said.
Gulfport police say their downtown officer is doing his job. Last month, he wrote 250 parking tickets. The last two days, he put tickets on at least 30 other cars.
Randy Brown is with the Gulfport Police Department. "We moved a man from patrol down there five days a week to enforce that," he said. "We try to have him down there everyday."
But Brown admitted that there are times when the downtown officer gets called to other parts of the city.
Cary Starr may be questioning the police department's downtown parking enforcement. But Mike Marshall is praising the fact that there are now customer parking spaces available outside his 13th Street bookshop.
"I think it's better than I've seen it in a long time," he said.
The spots right in front of Marshall's store all have one-hour limits.
"I think that sign has allowed people to realize they have to get back and get their car moved," he said. "I opens more parking spaces up more quickly."
Cary Starr said he'll plead guilty with an explanation when his parking ticket case is heard. The optician's explanation will be that he wanted the city to focus on improving downtown parking.
When Gulfport changed some of its downtown parking limits, it also added a new parking penalty. Once a driver commits a fourth downtown parking offense, police use an orange boot to immobilize cars. So far, the boot hasn't been needed.
By Brad Kessie
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