Park there, buddy, and she’ll see you in court

Greg Bean


By recent accounts, it looks like lots of people in Glassboro, N.J., think Maryann Cottrell is a real pain in the patootie.

We all know people like Cottrell, who see something wrong and decide to do something about it instead of sitting around on their keisters. They’re windmill tilters and dragon slayers, and they don’t care whether people applaud their efforts or curse them.

Frankly, I think the world needs more people like her.

According to an Associated Press story, it was last August when Cottrell started noticing the owner of a local business parking in the handicapped parking spot behind his building, without the appropriate handicapped-parking permits on his car.

She asked the cops to do something about it, and that’s when she learned something I’ll bet most of us didn’t know. When she asked an officer to cite the business owner, the cop said she could do it herself, since under New Jersey law, police have to issue a ticket for handicapped-parking citations brought by regular citizens. Under state laws, violators get a $250 fine for the first offense, $500 for the second, and 40 hours of community service for the third.

Cottrell not only took his advice regarding the business owner, she made it her own personal crusade. And in the months since August – armed with a camera to snap incriminating shots of the handicapped-parking scofflaws, which she then turns over to police – she’s filed nearly 300 complaints, all of which resulted in citations issued by mail. At one point, they had to call a special court session in Glassboro to handle some 200 complaints brought by Cottrell. She’s caught local dignitaries, mail trucks, lots of neighbors and two players for the Philadelphia Eagles, one of them Donovan McNabb and the other Jeremiah Trotter.

Admittedly, not all of those she’s cited were eventually found guilty, but her batting average has been pretty good. So good that some local business owners are complaining that her crusade is bad for trade, and at least one driver groused to a television station that Cottrell “needs to be stopped.”

The Maryann Cottrell story resonated with me, and I’ll tell you why.

I’ve never considered myself handicapped, or even disabled, but a childhood illness left me with what an old cowboy friend described as “a hitch in the git-along.”

That hitch never stopped me from doing anything I really wanted except run the 100-yard dash, but the effects of the illness seem to be reasserting themselves as I get older. These days when it’s icy, I use a walking stick to navigate the parking lot, and I figure it won’t be that many years before I need to use it indoors as well.

But there are a lot of people worse off than I am, so I’ve never applied for a handicapped parking permit and I don’t intend to apply for one in the foreseeable future. It takes me a little longer than most folks to get from the car to the office, but I generally get there in my own good time. I kind of enjoy poking along, and I’d hate to take one of those places from someone who truly needs it.

Still, it flat blows my hat in the creek when I pull into the parking lot in the morning and see someone with a handicapped permit (who I happen to know has no disability, but managed to acquire credentials) pull into one of the spaces, get out and scurry into the building sprightly as a roadrunner. I know that not all disabilities are readily apparent, heart troubles, for example. But come on, if you got the permit because your wheelchair-bound wife needs the convenience of a handicapped-parking space, does that mean you should use it when she isn’t along?

And it really, really chaps my derrire when I see a guy with no permit and a car full of healthy passengers pull into one of the spaces simply because he’s circled the lot a couple of times and can’t find a space close enough they won’t have to walk 50 yards to the entrance of the mall.

In the past, I’ve watched lazy nincompoops take those spaces, and I’ve seethed in silence, fantasizing about how good it would feel to confront them, promising myself that someday I’d figure how to do something about it.

Now, Maryann Cottrell has shown me the way. All I need is a camera and the gumption to sign a complaint after I record the offense for posterity.

I’ll try it soon, and let you know how it turns out.

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Wall Watch, Week Seven

It’s now been over seven weeks since Holmdel Committeeman Terence Wall turned on his running mate, Mayor Serena DiMaso, and accused her of making anti-Semitic comments. It’s been over seven weeks since DiMaso called on Wall either to prove the accusations he made against her, or resign. It’s been over seven weeks since I made the same call in this column.

In those weeks, I’ve heard from several Holmdel residents who applauded the Wall Watch and encouraged me to continue it. “You go, Greg!” one representative reader wrote. “Keep on Wall, week after week if [that’s what] it takes. That $%&*$#% so and so has been getting away with this kind of stuff for too long. Expose him for the @#$%&*$ that he is!”

That’s all well and good, but there’s one thing to keep in mind. Wall is under no obligation to show the proof or resign just because a newspaper columnist says he ought to.

I can keep this Wall Watch going for years, and he can continue to ignore it – as long as Holmdel voters allow him to do so. Until enough disgruntled residents start showing up at meetings to demand his resignation in a public forum, Terence Wall can keep thumbing his nose at everyone, and he can continue to make disgusting charges about anyone who ticks him off.

At some point, folks in Holmdel will have to take this matter into their own hands and demand he resign. Either that, or sit on their cabooses and put up with Wall’s shenanigans until the next election.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers.