The meter man: Parking enforcer embraces 'hated' role

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Cleavon Smith is better known as the guy who gives parking tickets downtown.
Or maybe as the guy who marks tires every two hours.
“One lady told me I was one of the most hated people in Tupelo,” he said, during a break last week. “I told her, ‘When I was in high school, I was popular and I wanted to know what it felt like when people didn’t like you.’
“You know what I told her? ‘It really doesn’t feel that bad,’” he said with a grin.
Smith has been working since 2007 in parking enforcement for the Tupelo Police Department. Smith, a retired teacher and postmaster, was recruited for the job.
He’s an avid golfer and his golfing buddy, Gary Birch, was working in downtown parking enforcement. Birch pitched the idea of splitting the full-time job between the two of them.
“We didn’t want a full-time job as a retiree,” Smith said. “I’m retired. I’m older. You’d be lucky to find a job like this. … It’s one of those good jobs you don’t ever regret coming to work.”
TPD soon hired Smith to do downtown parking enforcement. He has a uniform, a badge and a shiny silver shield pinned on his chest. But, still, his buddies at the golf course don’t think of him as a police officer.
“Most people don’t even know what I do,” he said.
The ones who do know, tease him with, “Where’s your gun? You don’t have a gun. You’re not a real policeman.”
Smith said he felt guilty giving out parking tickets when he started. A ticket for staying in one spot longer than two hours has a $15 fine. If it isn’t paid within five days, the fine jumps to $50.
The frequent offenders for those tickets are downtown employees, not shoppers, Smith said, because the same vehicles get tickets daily.
“I used to really feel bad when I gave the same person a ticket day after day,” he said. “I thought, ‘These people can’t afford the tickets.’ Then I figured that if they are OK getting the tickets every day, I’m OK giving them day after day.”
But that doesn’t mean people don’t try to get out of the tickets.
Some people move their vehicle every day like clockwork. It’ll be in one spot in the morning, he’ll mark the tires and then the owner will move it to another spot.
He’s seen other people wipe the chalk marks off their tires or pull forward and back up until the chalk marks aren’t visible.
“Everybody’s trying to beat the system,” he said. “There are lots of other places to park, but you have to walk. Most people don’t want to walk.”
The most egregious parking violations, he said, are for improper parking on Main Street.
“I be wanting to give them $100 tickets,” he said.
Drivers, he said, will cut across all the traffic lanes and park in the opposite direction of the flow of traffic.
“They got to know better,” he said. “But I’m totally convinced that some of them really don’t know because they ask.”
He had one woman park improperly and then take pictures of her parking job so she could contest a previous ticket in court. She kept telling him she parked between the lines so she didn’t know why she got a ticket.
He showed her how the cars were supposed to face and how her vehicle was the opposite.
“She was so shocked to find out she was wrong, she started crying,” he said. “She didn’t know you couldn’t park on that side. I made her promise she wouldn’t do that again.”
Technically, he said, he could give people two parking tickets per day.
But, he only gives one ticket per day to people who exceed the time limit.
“You’ve paid for that space for the day,” he said.
carlie.kollath@journalinc.com