‘I was at my wits’ end:’ Parking ticket error leads to surprise collections bill for Sheboygan man

SHEBOYGAN -- A parking ticket mix-up led to a headache for a Sheboygan man.

The trouble began for Tim Cunningham after his mother moved from Florida into a Wisconsin care facility. She brought with her a blue Kia van. It doesn't get driven much.

"Maybe one every month to keep the battery up and running," Cunningham said about how often the vehicle was driven. The car is permanently parked outside Cunningham's home, so it came as surprise when Cunningham received a ticket from Milwaukee connected to the vehicle.

"I got a notice in the mail from the City of Milwaukee stating that I had a parking ticket," Cunningham recalled.

It said the car was parked on the wrong side of the street at 4:19 a.m. near 47th and Hadley. "I don't even know where 47th Street is located in Milwaukee," Cunningham admitted.

The license plate numbers on the ticket matched those on the Kia, but the car description did not. It said the car parked on the wrong side of the street was a white four-door Ford. "They gave me a description of the vehicle and I'm like, 'No. My vehicle is a van,'" Cunningham said.

Cunningham said when he spoke with the city, he was reassured the $20 ticket was a mistake. Then, he got a $25 bill for a past due violation. Following that, a third bill for $50 that came from a collections agency.

"That one kind of got me a little riled up when I got the collections notice," Cunningham said.

In 2017, Milwaukee issued nearly 595,000 parking citations. Revenue from tickets was more than $15 million. A Department of Public Works spokesperson told Contact 6 that it is "unlikely that a parking citation will be voided unless it is confirmed that is was issue in error."

"I was at my wits' end," Cunningham said.

Contact 6 sent a letter to the city on his behalf and, then, an email. Soon after, Cunningham said he got a phone call from the collections agency. "With a big apology. 'Sorry, that's our fault,'" Cunningham recalled about the phone call.

A follow-up letter from Professional Account Management said Cunningham's "citation was marked for dismissal on Dec. 3" and blamed a "processing delay" for the subsequent bills. It confirmed the ticket had been "voided and dismissed" and said "there has been no impact to [Cunningham's] credit." However, the question remained, how did Cunningham's license plate number end up on that ticket in the first place?

Contact 6 went to the intersection where Cunningham's car was supposedly ticketed and found a vehicle matching the description on the ticket. The only difference was the license plate was one letter off — a "B" instead of a "D."

It was a simple mistake that lead to one big headache.

If you want to dispute a Milwaukee parking ticket, the city allows you to start the process online.  You can also schedule an in-person hearing. Excuses won't get you out of a ticket -- only evidence it was issued in error will. So before parking, check street signs for prohibited areas and make sure you're on the correct side of the road. Get a night permit where required. You can even request temporary permission for up to three nights online. You can also download the MKE Park app to pay meters directly from your phone.

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