Published April 24. 2013 2:00PM Updated April 25. 2013 12:38AM
New London — You could call it karma.
Reid Burdick, who has had the final say on parking ticket appeals in the city for about 20 years, walked out of his last hearing in City Hall Wednesday and found a ticket on his windshield.
"I guess this is justice for those who had to pay today,'' Burdick said of the $25 ticket for violating the parking limit on Masonic Street.
As of July 1, Burdick will no longer have what he calls "the honor" of volunteering to hear parking disputes. He is being replaced as the emergency management director, a $10,000-a-year position he has held for 26 years, the duties of which include hearing parking ticket appeals.
"When I got this job, I didn't know a thing about what I was supposed to do,'' Burdick said after his final hearing Wednesday. "(Former) City Manager Richard Brown told me to 'Be fair. Be kind to New London residents and businesses. And keep the rest out of my office.'"
Burdick said that is how he has tried to conduct business.
"I'm not Judge Judy. I'm not Judge Joe,'' he said. "You can't yell at me. I don't write the rules. I have nothing in this, one way or the other."
A longtime resident of the city, Burdick is familiar with the names of every street and road, and knows where parking signs and fire hydrants are located, where the curbs are striped for no parking, and where there is resident-only parking.
"I've been running around New London for about 60 years,'' the former city councilor said. "You get used to where all the signs are."
About 100 of the 200 people who appealed their tickets and were scheduled an appeals hearing showed up at City Hall Wednesday. They came with briefcases and folders and 8-by-10 photos. They pulled out their cellphones and scrolled to their evidence. One young woman brought her laptop, spinning it around to show Burdick the image.
He tossed out about $2,000 worth of tickets and told 25 people they had no defense and had to pay. He also had the police department look into the facts surrounding 15 other violations.
He gave a break to those who contested tickets they received during one February snowstorm. The winter parking ban may have been in place too long, he said.
He patiently listened to the reasons violators gave for their innocence — they didn't see the sign; it wasn't snowing yet; the curb wasn't marked; they were only a foot over the line; my daughter was driving the car; the handicapped sticker was in another car.
A city employee who roams the streets looking for violators was among those who disputed a ticket.
"You're kind of in an odd spot here,'' Burdick said to Junel Dulcice, one of the city's two parking enforcement officers, who was fighting a ticket he received last year.
Dulcice said the lot near his house on Huntington Street did not have a sign for restricted parking. Burdick said he would have the police look into the missing sign.
A woman who got a ticket for parking in the fire lane in front of Home Goods said store employees told her to pull up there to load a large item she had purchased.
"My advice to you is not to take motor vehicle advice from people who work at Home Goods,'' he said.
Hans Hess of Old Lyme said he came to New London the week before Christmas to buy a present and parked in a permit-only space. It didn't make sense, he said, to ticket visitors patronizing businesses.
"The whole lot was empty,'' Hess said. "No one was on the street. I was the only person in downtown New London the week before Christmas."
But Burdick pointed out that just a few feet away were spaces designated for free two-hour parking. Hess had to pay.
Everyone had a story. The first woman of the day confessed to the room that she loved her nine children but didn't like eight of them, especially the one that kept getting parking tickets.
Sharon Whitfield, whose ticket for parking in front of a fire hydrant was voided after Burdick read her appeal, wouldn't leave until she had explained herself.
An animated Whitfield said she got out of her car on Gov. Winthrop Boulevard near Huntington Street, left the flashers on, and went to help her daughter and her two kids, who were standing on the corner. She turned around to find an officer writing up a ticket.
"If there was a fire, I would have been out of there before the fire department arrived,'' she said.
Burdick agreed it wasn't right.
"You're sweet,'' she said. "What's your name?"
Among the tickets Burdick asked Officer Wayne Neff to investigate further was given to a man who had been pulled over by police in front of ShopRite, and then was given a ticket for parking in a fire lane.
"They told me to pull over there,'' the man said.
"I think there's more to this one,'' Burdick agreed.
Several times during the hearing, he told disgruntled drivers who complained about the parking to talk to the city's administration.
"If you don't like the parking regulations in the city, you have to see the wizards who run the city, of which I am not,'' he said.
Burdick kept the meeting light, joking with nearly everyone.
He said he has enjoyed meeting people, tossing out a ticket when he could, and forcing repeat offenders to pay up.
"I've always tried to be fair, and I think, even with those who had to pay, we walked away friends,'' he said.
The deputy police chief will replace Burdick as the emergency management director, and Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said he hopes a local attorney will volunteer to adjudicate parking disputes.
Burdick was philosophical when, after the hearing, he found the ticket on his car.
"I own it. I'll pay it," he said. "I should have known. It's what I would have told anyone."