People who break Fort Wayne parking laws will no longer go to court to settle unpaid fines under an amendment approved Tuesday by City Council.
Council unanimously passed the proposal, which will allow parking cases to go through an administrative hearing officer instead of through Allen County traffic court -- a change city officials said could improve compliance with traffic laws and make the process easier for the city and the public.
"An administrative hearing is much friendlier to citizens" who do not know the ins and outs of the legal system, said City Attorney Carol Helton.
City officials hope the more informal process will increase cooperation by violators, she said, adding that it also would allow violators to tell their side of the story and present favorable evidence that may not be permitted in court because of strict rules.
Councilman Marty Bender, R-at large, agreed that traffic court can often be a "horrendously long process."
Patty Stahlhut, a supervisor with the violations bureau of the city clerk's office, said that of nearly 23,000 parking citations issued this year, fewer than 4,000 have been paid.
City officials modeled the new process after similar policies already used by Fort Wayne's neighborhood code division and Indianapolis parking officials, Helton said.
Under the current policy, the city tries to take a parking violator to court after that person goes 30 days without paying a ticket and ignores subsequent warnings.
The amendment was one of several parking-related bills under consideration by the city. Council also passed an ordinance doubling the fines for most ordinance violations, including parking infractions.
Separately, the city Board of Public Safety on Tuesday approved a proposal that would double the rates at downtown parking meters. That proposal may go to council in early January.