Raleigh, N.C. — State Auditor Beth Wood was out running errands for her job this morning when her silver, state-owned Dodge sedan accumulated the kind of fashion accessory that nobody wants: a parking boot.
The device is designed to keep a car from moving until its owner paid some back parking fines. In this case, the City of Raleigh wanted $245 from Wood to set her car free.
Wood is an elected official whose agency makes sure public dollars are spent as intended. And the professional money-minder didn't remember owing any money to the city of Raleigh.
"I called them and said that I didn't have any parking tickets and the lady on the phone said, 'Yes, ma'am you do, running all the way back to 2007,'" Wood recalled.
And that's where this story gets interesting.
Elected state officials including lawmakers, appellate judges, the attorney general and, yes, the state auditor are issued special plates with one-to-three digit numbers.
Wood's plate is 6. That's the same tag number that has been issued to state auditors for a while now, including her predecessor, Les Merritt.
According to Lillian Overton with the City of Raleigh's parking enforcement office, the tickets for which Wood was booted were issued in 2007 and 2008.
Wood didn't take office until January of 2009. Merritt was auditor in 2007 and 2008 and would have driven the car with the number 6 tag.
Merritt did not return phone messages left with either Merritt Wealth Strategies where he is a vice president or the Foundation for Ethics in Public Service
"When I found out why the thing was booted, I was just sucker punched," Wood said.
She tried convincing city parking officials that she wasn't responsible for the fines. But state law, she said, doesn't give the city any latitude.
"The only way for me to get the boot off my car was to pay the fines," Wood said.
The cost: $245. Of that, $50 was Wood's responsibility for over-staying her welcome in a 15-minute parking zone on Salisbury Street. The remainder was due to tickets from before she took office.
Her spot near the Wells Fargo building isn't far from her office and she was able to walk back to take some mid-day meetings.
“It did not stop me from doing what I needed to today,” Wood said.
Asked whether she was going to ask Merritt, Wood said, "I figure he didn't pay the city...so I wasn't going to," and then paused. "Yes, I'm going to call him."