Parking policies change as ‘Robin Hooders’ fill the meters
The tension between parking authorities and the free-staters continues as city officials await for a date to appeal the case against Robin Hood of Keene, this time in front of the state Supreme Court.
Keene officials are not happy with the decision Judge John C. Kissinger Jr. made when he dismissed the case the city had presented against six citizens known as “Robin Hooders.”
The city officials claimed the free-staters had allegedly harassed parking enforcement officers.
According to Ian Freeman, founder of Free-Keene and one of the members of Robin Hood of Keene that has been sued, the goal of the group is to prevent people from getting parking tickets. For this, they go around downtown Keene and fill the parking meters before the officials can issue a ticket. However, he said the group has never practice violence or violated the rights of the parking officers.
While the staff at the Attorney’s office prepares to appeal in front of the N.H. Supreme Court, parking authorities are working on improving the parking situation downtown, Gary Lamoureux, project coordinator at the Parking Enforcement Office, said.
Keene implemented a new parking policy that allows citizens to pay for their meters with a credit card.
Lamoureux explained users can create an account online or call and provide their card information and their location and they will be charged for the parking space.
The policy came into effect Monday, Jan. 27. Lamoureux said the decision was made in order to, “offer more options for the local citizens,” and is not directly related to the case against the Robin Hooders.
He indicated people will still be able to pay for the meters using change if they choose to do so.
Therefore, with the new procedure, the “Robin Hooders” could continue filling the parking meters, however, they would not know if the meter is actually expired or it has already been paid for with a card.
Lamoureux also stated the price of the parking meters in downtown Keene may increase in the future. “Everything has gone up. We need to be able to support our division and our projects,” he said.
According to Lamoureux, the increase is not related to the money the city spent in suing the members of Robin Hood of Keene. “The Parking Division is supported by a completely different budget,” Lamoureux said.
Lamoureux stated the staff at the Parking Enforcement office’s main concern regarding Robin Hood of Keene, “is not them filling the meters, it’s them bullying the employees while they are doing their job.”
Community members like Andrea Whitcomb, a Keene resident and Sodexo employee at Keene State College, said Robin Hooders create a hostile working environment for the parking officers.
Whitcomb started a Facebook group named “Stop Free-Keene” more than a year ago. She said the group’s goal is to, “show people they [members of the Free State Project] are not here to help them, that they are pushing their own agenda.” Whitcomb went on, “They want to live in a utopia.”
Whitcomb suggested the Free-staters express their ideas through the “proper channels.” She said, “If you want changes to happen, you should try civil participation, presenting ideas, not have a disruptive conduct.”
For Whitcomb, even recording the officers was inappropriate. “You can feed meters, but why do you have to video tape? If a person says, ‘I don’t want to be videotaped,’ you don’t do it.”
Whitcomb said the videos that members of Robin Hood of Keene upload online show harassment.
“You can see Ian [Freeman] following an officer and saying ‘Why don’t you find a job that your community will respect you for?’ Whether they want to admit it or not, that right there is harassment.”
To Freeman, the Robin Hooders did not commit harassment.
Freeman also said enduring verbal and mental abuse is stated in the parking officer’s job description. He said, “That wasn’t happening but even if it were true, it’s part of the job.”
Despite the controversy, “Robin Hooding” in Keene is still in full swing, and KSC is no stranger to the activity of the free-staters.
Garret Ean, one of the most active Robin Hooders, said he goes out to feed the parking meters downtown around four to five times a week.
On the second day back from break, KSC students had one less thing to worry about. Two Robin Hooders filled the parking meters all day Wednesday, Jan. 22.
They took shifts to make sure the meters around the college area stayed filled. “We both spend close to twenty dollars,” Ean said.
However, this activity had no formal relation with KSC.
Questions came up when members of Robin Hood of Keene released a statement on Free-keene.com that indicated that “this [filling the meters on Jan. 22] will be the start of Robin Hood of Keene’s partnership with Keene State College.”
Kelly Ricaurte, media relations manager at KSC, stated that the college officials have had no relation to Robin Hood of Keene. “We are not aware of any connections with this organization,” Ricaurte stated.
Still, Ean stated Robin Hood of Keene, “wanted to welcome the students back to Keene.”
Ean also said “Robin Hooding” is “better received towards the college than downtown, where some of the city officials work.” He recalled, “The other day someone came by and gave me some change and shook my hand.”
Ean said he usually spends around ten dollars every time he goes “Robin Hooding.” Regarding the founding the group has, Freeman said, “it’s mostly donations we get and it is also self-funded.”
Ean explained that since the city of Keene sued the Robin Hooders, they have been getting more donations.
“The case has drawn a lot of attention to Robin Hood of Keene,” he said.
While the case against Freeman and the Robin Hooders was dismissed, twenty-year-old Travis Hoods, who police said allegedly attacked one of the Robin Hooders, will be facing four counts of criminal threatening. KPD arrested Hobbs January 19.
“He just came and turned himself in,” KPD Sergeant Thaddeus Derendal stated.
Regarding the outcome of the court case, both Freeman and Ean indicated they feel it was refreshing.
Freeman said, “The outcome of the court case was a vindication of our right to free speech and our right to protest.”
Ean went on, “I am honored to be part of a project that is probably going to set a precedent as far as freedom of speech comes.”
On the other hand, Lamoureux stated he expects the case to have a different outcome in the Supreme Court, “not only for our people in Keene but for every government employee in the state that might be in a similar situation.”
Karina Barriga Albring can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org