One may not be able to beat City Hall, as the old adage goes, but at least one can now wage the war from within their living room.
By the end of this month – for those savvy to technology – the need to go to City Hall to fight parking tickets or code enforcement violations with a hearing officer will no longer be necessary. As outlined in his Midterm Address last week, Mayor Carlo DeMaria and his administration are ready to start ‘virtual appeal’ hearings via Skype, and later this year on FaceTime, this Tuesday, Jan. 21. A full online portal system for scheduling and holding the hearings will be available in February.
Everett is believed to be the first community in the area to offer virtual hearings for municipal government hearings.
“This new and innovative service will ease the burden of coming to City Hall to appeal a citation,” said Mayor DeMaria. “Many individuals struggle to physically come to City Hall. This new service will ensure due process is afforded to all.”
Code Enforcement (or 40U) Hearing Officer and Paralegal Jen Gonzalez said this is a way for the City to make hearings more convenient to the public – whether they are in a different state and want to challenge a ticket, or whether they are tied up at work and cannot get to City Hall during business hours.
“The mayor is really wanting to bring the City forward and make it easier for people to do things here online,” she said. “We can streamline everything and people don’t have to come here and look for parking or take a day off of work. It’s much easier.”
City IT Director Kevin Dorgan said the system is based on a web page that is still being developed, but is mostly done. Using Skype, hearings can be held face to face, but from a distance. An advantage is that these services like Skype also allow users to “drop” documents into the discussion. Any information required, like a contract, letter or photograph, can be presented in real time to the hearing officer during the hearing.
Hearing officers for parking and code enforcement will be able to take virtual appeal hearing appointments up to 48 hours in advance. At the moment, those wishing for a virtual appeal hearing must file their intention to appeal 21 days after receiving a violation. Once doing that, they can request by phone or e-mail a virtual hearing.
Eventually, Dorgan said, they will have a full website up that uses a calendar. Residents wishing to appeal and simply go online at any time of day and reserve an open hearing date on the online calendar, giving information also like phone numbers and the Skype account number. Reminders will be sent out automatically from the City, and the hearing officer will call them at the appointed time using Skype.
That online calendar system is still being constructed and should be up and running in February.
Hearing officers will use tablets to conduct the hearings, and those appealing can use computers, tablets, or even phones. The hearings are expected, for the most part, to be about 15 minutes in length.
Gonzalez has been working with the City for 10 years at the City Solicitor’s Office, and has been running code violation hearings for seven years. She said she has been using e-mail and the phone over the years to try to make things easier for those who cannot make it, but the virtual appeals would open up a whole new world of convenience.
“What the mayor wants and what code enforcement wants rather than a fine is to get these properties safe,” she said. “This is a convenient tool for everyone in helping get that done.”
Residents will be able to schedule hearing appointments through e-mail at [email protected] and [email protected], or in person at the front desk in City Hall. A hearing can also be scheduled by calling 3-1-1.
Apellants do not have to be present for the hearing, as a representative or property manager is sufficient. Residents must schedule appointment at least 48 hours in advance to secure a timeslot.