County engineer gets a new job
More than two dozen drivers who visited State Beach on a warm sunny Monday found parking tickets on their windshields when they returned to their vehicles. They were ticketed for the rarely enforced violation of parking with their cars headed in the wrong direction.
One irate driver assumed that the ticket was issued by an Oak Bluffs police officer named S. Berlucchi because Oak Bluffs was the town checked at the top of the multi-town standard ticket and that was the name written in the officer name box on the ticket.
But there is no Oak Bluffs police officer by that name.
Dukes County engineer and newly sworn in deputy sheriff Stephen Berlucchi was the issuing "officer" of the $10 tickets. Mr. Berlucchi's job includes assisting Island towns with civil engineering projects, such as sidewalks and roadways, the new Lagoon Pond drawbridge, and the new North Tisbury roadside paths.
Now, add parking enforcement along State Beach and around the Dukes County courthouse to the county's portfolio.
Yesterday, Dukes County Manager Winn Davis said that Mr. Berlucchi is authorized to issue parking tickets in an effort to protect the beach. Mr. Davis said that because Mr. Berlucchi is a rookie deputy sheriff, he had filled out the tickets incorrectly and issued the wrong citations.
State Beach is shared by the towns of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown and is managed by the county. The only parking is along a shoulder that runs parallel to the road on the beach side, so that vehicles traveling from Oak Bluffs must turn around in order to park with the traffic flow. Some drivers simply pull in facing toward Edgartown.
Mr. Davis said that people who received the tickets will not be subject to fines. "They just have to mail it in," he said. "They are not going to get processed. We don't want to inconvenience anyone."
However, there is no general amnesty. Tickets issued for parking off the roadway on the sand would not be invalidated, he said.
In addition to Mr. Berlucchi, Mr. Davis said he also carries a parking ticket book, but only for the purpose of ticketing vehicles parked in spaces reserved for county officials at the Dukes County Courthouse. Mr. Davis said he is not a special deputy and wrote no tickets this year.
Keep off the grass
Mr. Davis said the county effort to prevent people from parking off the paved surface and damaging the beach began in June with notices to the police and newspapers. He said that when the problem persisted, Mr. Berlucchi said that he often traveled that road and said that if the county made him a special deputy sheriff, he would write tickets. "So we did that," Mr. Davis said.
According to the minutes of the Aug. 23 county commission meeting, despite promises from Oak Bluffs and Edgartown police and Sheriff Mike McCormack to provide stepped up monitoring to prevent people from parking on the sand, Mr. Davis said the situation had not improved. Mr. Davis reported that he and Mr. Berlucchi would be appointed special deputies to help issue tickets.
Yesterday, Mr. Berlucchi said he was made a deputy sheriff at the request of the county manager and with the approval of the county commissioners, in order to protect the beach because people were parking on the sand and damaging the beach grass. He said Mr. Davis provided him with a ticket book and told him to monitor the beach for parking.
Mr. Berlucchi estimated he wrote 30 tickets on Monday, his first day writing tickets. He said that in his view it is dangerous to park in the wrong direction, but based on conversations Mr. Davis had with police officials in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, he said he has been asked not to write any more tickets for parking in the wrong direction.
He said he would continue to issue tickets to anyone who is parked off the paved surface.
Richard Combra of Oak Bluffs, a former town selectman and member of the county finance advisory board, this week sharply criticized the county practice. Mr. Combra said that on Monday, he and his wife decided to take advantage of the nice weather and go to State Beach.
Mr. Combra said that when he and his wife left the beach, he was disappointed to see that, although it was off-season and a weekday, someone had ticketed the vehicles facing Edgartown. The biggest surprise, he said, came farther up the road when he saw county engineer Stephen Berlucchi get out of a county vehicle holding a parking ticket book.
Mr. Combra said that he had supported the creation of the position of county engineer as a means to save the towns money on engineering services, not write parking tickets. He said he is doubly annoyed, because last week at the Sept. 12 Oak Bluffs selectmen's meeting, he learned that the Island towns are now being asked to pay $35 per hour for the services of the county engineer, on top of what the towns already contributed to that department.
"There obviously does not appear to be enough work for this position," said Mr. Combra. "The position may not be warranted, if in fact his duties are writing tickets."
Mr. Combra said that ticket writing is certainly intended to generate money for the county, but even putting that aside, Mr. Berlucchi's time should not be spent issuing parking citations. "It's outrageous, actually," he said. "People can be irate about getting a ticket for doing this, but the taxpayers Island-wide should be irate that they are being assessed for a county engineer and he is a ticket writer."
One irate driver
On Tuesday, Bruce Doten of Vineyard Haven delivered a letter to The Times, accompanied by a copy of two parking tickets and a memo to parking ticket hearing officer Joe Sollitto, issued by Lt. Tim Williamson of the Oak Bluffs police.
The memo asked that the tickets be voided. The explanation stated, "Issuing officer not a member of OPPD. Tickets improperly/incompletely filled out."
Mr. Doten's letter explained what had happened and his surprise at receiving a ticket in the absence of any signs advising against parking in the wrong direction. He said that a quick trip to the Oak Bluffs police department turned up no officer by the name of Berlucchi.
He wrote, "Does this scurrilous S. Berlucchi commit a criminal act by impersonating an Oak Bluffs police officer and perpetrating a licentious fraud on the driving public by issuing invalid parking citations demanding $10 under penalties of the law? Being told by Oak Bluffs PD that the sheriff's department can issue parking tickets along Beach Road, I spoke to Sheriff McCormack's on-duty lieutenant who said, 'We have no Berlucchi, but we have complaints about Berlucchi parking tickets.'"
Mr. Doten said the incident suggests that Mr. Berlucchi has too much time on his hands and that the Island is over-policed. He concluded, "I sincerely hope that fellow Islanders receiving these spurious tickets will not be suckered into paying them, but will come forward immediately and complain until law enforcement flushes out S. Berlucchi and makes an arrest for impersonating an Oak Bluffs police officer, not to mention spoiling my day at the beach."
Yesterday, Edgartown clerk of courts Joe Sollitto said that he swore Mr. Berlucchi in as a deputy sheriff last week but was unaware that Mr. Berlucchi was issuing parking tickets. Mr. Sollitto, who is the hearing officer for parking ticket appeals, said the state driver's manual dictates that vehicles must be parked in the direction of the traffic flow but he has never known a ticket to be issued for that infraction on State Beach.