By WILL ATKINSON
Tucked in the basement of Lee Hall, Jean Elliot’s phone suddenly rings. She presses the receiver to her ear and listen’s intently. It’s yet another report from a parking enforcement officer calling to warn her that a student has illegally parked in a “Customer-Only” spot in the Pizza Hut parking lot between College Avenue and Jefferson Davis Highway.
Forced to make a tough decision, Elliot decides to locate and contact the student before tow trucks from Shanks Towing impound the car. Eventually, the lucky student is found and the car is moved out of harm’s way.
This is a typical Tuesday morning for Elliot, who as parking manager, can make or break a student’s day.
Elliot is responsible for directing parking enforcement officers to ticket cars, advise students on where it is safe to park, and manage the main office in Lee Hall where tickets are paid.
“People are always coming in angry,” Elliot said. “Everyone wants to yell at us. We get a lot of complaints from students who get tickets in College Heights. We don’t even issue tickets in College Heights.”
Being a parking manager at a university may seem like a stress-free profession, but it can be an emotionally taxing job. Nobody likes paying parking tickets, so being the one to give them out and enforce the rules is a tough role to play.
The barrage of complaints and angry confrontations Elliot encounters each day is often too overwhelming.
“We had a Community Service Officer come to work for us. She was so excited to get in the office and manage the front desk. Her very first encounter was a student cursing at her and throwing the ticket at her. She was dumbfounded and pretty shaken up. She had no idea how to react,” Elliot said.
Elliot explained that she is not purposefully patrolling campus looking to issue tickets to illegally parked cars. Instead, the most popular circumstance requiring her to give tickets is when a neighbor or school employee contacts her and complains that someone has taken their spot.
“I actually try to help the students. I’m not out looking to nab you,” Elliot said. “One time a girl got her car stuck in a parallel park on College Avenue. She maybe had two inches to work with and was holding up traffic. She couldn’t get out without help so we all came to safely direct her out. It must have been a 10-point turn,” said Elliot, who couldn’t help but laugh.
Elliot tries to see the lighter side to her job and block out some of the negativity that comes with it. In reality, the university is not responsible for most tickets accumulated by students and does not even enforce towing.
“People think all we do is hunt for cars to ticket. We don’t have any quotas we have to meet. The only way we know we are doing our job well is the number of complaints we receive,” Elliot said.
Although there is no mandatory ticket quota set by the university, Elliot and her staff still need to be diligent. If they receive too many complaints from university faculty that students are in their parking spaces, her job could be in jeopardy.
“Basically, a ticket is a warning. We need you to stay out of those designated spots. University employees, including professors, are given those spots so they can do their jobs,” Elliot said.
Elliot was hired when former parking manager, Robin Jones, accepted a new position as Administrator of Computerized Maintenance Monitoring System within Procurement Services. Prior to working with UMW, Elliot worked in warehouse management. Elliot had no prior experience in parking management.
“I do like working here. Sometimes it gets stressful but I think I’ve grown a little thicker skin. It’s hard to deal with angry people, especially face to face usually on a daily basis. I think it’s the mother in me that feels bad and wants to help them,” Elliot said.
Shortly after taking the job, Elliot was criticized by students in an article that appeared in The Blue & Gray Press. During move-in weekend in the fall semester, in a 24-hour period between Aug. 25 and Aug. 26, 28 students had their cars towed from the Eagle Landing apartments. Most of the parking spots are clearly labeled as customer parking or UMW student parking. However, it was reported that 10 spots directly behind Eagle Landing’s parking deck were not marked, resulting in multiple students’ cars being towed.
Two students interviewed by The Blue & Gray Press about their experience with Jean Elliot and the parking management staff in Lee Hall stated that the staff admitted that they should have put signs in those spots but failed to do so.
“I thought [the article] was a little unfair but I can see why they were upset,” Elliot said. “But parking management and the school has no connection with private tow truck companies, besides the signs they mentioned, we really had no say in what happened.”
UMW senior Tanner Havens has had his fair share of experience with UMW parking management. Havens does not have a student-parking pass and has been ticketed multiple times this year.
“I got two tickets this semester just from leaving my car in the parking lot behind Jepson. I was thinking about getting a pass but they’re just way too expensive. So I figured I’d just test my luck,” Havens said.
UMW offers students the opportunity to purchase parking passes that would allow them to park in specific areas on campus. However, it is $225.00 and is only available to students who can prove their residency.
Elliot remains hopeful that she can help students while also protecting faculty parking spots.
“I get that nobody wants to deal with the parking police. Everyone blames us for towing when we have nothing to do with it. I want to be able to help students avoid that,” Elliot said.