POUGHKEEPSIE – Common Council Chairperson Sarah Salem’s personal vehicle was impounded by city police earlier this month after being reported as an abandoned vehicle. The vehicle sat in the city’s impound from June 1 until the chair called police four days later to report the vehicle as missing, setting off controversy among city employees.
Salem pays for a monthly parking permit issued by the city which allows the chair to park the vehicle in the city-owned Financial Parking Plaza, across from the Mid -Hudson Civic Center. Sources tell Mid-Hudson News that other permit holders had complained to city officials about a car (Salem’s) that had not moved in several days, in violation of the rules.
Other permit-holders using that garage had been told that they must move their vehicles to a different spot every 48 hours. The offended say they complained to parking officials because a vehicle (later identified as Salem’s), “never moves.”
Parking enforcement officers began monitoring the situation. On May 26, one enforcement officer notified the Parking Office Administrator that the vehicle in question had not moved in several days. When the registration information was researched, it was determined that the vehicle belonged to Salem. The officer asked the administrator to contact Salem to rectify the situation.
In a text from Administrator Daniel Vonknoblauch to the officer, he indicated that he contacted Salem. The May 26 text said, “Talked to Sarah, she said she does move it forward to the charging station then moves it back to the spot behind it. It’s not clean because she doesn’t have a reason to clean it.” Salem’s car was covered in dust and pollen.
On Wednesday, June 1, the enforcement officer noticed that the vehicle had not moved since the May 26 conversation with his supervisor. He arranged for a city cop to have it towed as an abandoned vehicle pursuant to city code. The vehicle was impounded later that day.
On Saturday, June 5, Salem called the police when the common council chair discovered the vehicle missing. When informed that it had been impounded, Salem called City Administrator Marc Nelson. Nelson says that he researched the incident and released the vehicle to Salem without charge.
Salem says that the chair was never notified by the parking office, even though The Parking Office Administrator sent a text describing an entire conversation with Salem. When confronted about the text describing the conversation with Salem, Vonknoblauch backtracked. Asked to verify the text he sent to his officer, he recanted the conversation. Asked, “Did you send a text or email to any city employees indicating that you had contacted Ms. Salem,” he responded by saying, “I told Darren I did. But I did not. Mistake on my part.”
A number of city employees contacted Mid-Hudson News with allegations that Salem received special treatment, which Marc Nelson denied. The city administrator acknowledged that the lack of a uniform parking policy and visible signage, combined with poor communication, led to what he is calling a “mistake.”
It was pointed out to Nelson that permit-holders have been told they need to move their vehicles every 48 hours, yet it took Salem twice that time to realize the vehicle was missing, gives the appearance of special treatment. Nelson responded, saying, “There are some issues that have come to my attention that will be addressed. Mayor Rolison’s administration treats everyone in this city equally. If facts indicate an issue, we error on the side of the resident.”
Salem responded to a request asking for her interpretation of the incident, and called it, “An error caused by a poorly articulated policy for parking permit holders.” The council chairperson added, “I pay monthly for a permit to park my car in that lot. I don’t know how they ran my information and didn’t see that my car was permitted for that lot.” Salem did not respond when asked if she had received any prior notification prom the Parking Office Administrator.