Traffic Scofflaws Forced To Run Marathon

A judge has ended an experimental, controversial program to promote fitness among parking violators — but not before a determined Wilders administration compelled the city’s most chronic scofflaws to compete in what may be the grimmest marathon anywhere.

The past few days have seen frantic races to the finish, figurative and literal, as city attorneys stalled a lawsuit to halt the Tickets to Health initiative long enough to hold the first and only Triple Offenders Marathon. The lawyers got what they wanted, successfully delaying Judge Horace Table’s ruling until Monday morning — mere hours after the marathon’s finish.

Table ruled the Tickets to Health program was “in violation of the City Charter, in violation of the Constitution and in violation of any standard of human decency.”

A year and a half ago, local gymnasium magnate Carolanne Tapscott approached Mayor Wilders with an idea intended to decrease widespread anger at the city’s aggressive parking enforcement and increase physical activity among residents. After a series of private discussions and one poorly attended public hearing, the city unveiled Tickets to Health to a confused, sedentary population.

The program worked like this: a resident’s first parking ticket would result in a mandatory 25-minute walk around the Gen. Omar Bradley Memorial Track at Baxter Park, a second would require participation in a stair climb up the 30-story Tyler Tower and the penalty for a third would be training and competition in what was to be the annual Triple Offenders Marathon.

The marathon, held Sunday morning, will go down as one of the city’s least popular instances of mandatory mass activity. The runners, many of whom appeared unfit to run around the block, let alone 26.2 miles, were escorted to the starting line by city police officers. Competitors carried computer chips to record their times — and tracking devices to ensure they didn’t end the race early. The route wasn’t populated by the usual throngs of cheering supporters and volunteers with bottled water, but by city employees who called out directions like “Please keep running” and “Don’t forget to breathe.”

One of the greater ironies of Tickets to Health and the lawsuit that ended it is that the program was probably short-lived anyway. Judging from the state of the runners, none of them would ever again commit a parking violation and subject themselves to such an ordeal.

Runner Marion Prentiss, an account executive for a local insurance company, hadn’t performed any rigorous exercise since gym class during her junior year of high school — 17 years ago. At mile 14, Prentiss staggered over to a city employee and panted, “Please, this is killing me. I swear to God I’ll never park too close to a fire hydrant ever again.”

The employee handed Prentiss a complaint form before waving her on.

It was just such a scenario that Judge Table wanted to prevent — and one that Tapscott wanted to make a regular part of city life.

In his carefully worded ruling, Table said under certain circumstances the city has the right to compel people to participate in exercise against their will — but not because of parking violations. “Should the city see fit to form a militia, draft residents into a dangerously understaffed police department [as has happened before] or form a civilian works-progress apparatus in the event of natural disaster or economic depression, then mandatory mass physical performance would be protected and encouraged by the City Charter. But a parking infraction or multiple parking infractions do not rise to the Charter-defined standard of ‘city security, economic well-being, or quality of life.’ ”

But Carolanne Tapscott, who famously started her gymnasium empire out of a converted back-alley ballet studio, remains unbowed. Early in her discussions with the Mayor’s office about Tickets to Health, someone floated the idea of making the program optional rather than mandatory. Tapscott fiercely opposed the idea, and it never got any traction. She still believes making the initiative mandatory was necessary.

“Doing anything else would send the wrong message,” she told The City Desk. “This ruling tells the people of this city it’s OK to commit multiple parking infractions and it’s OK to have a high BMI. In my book, neither is OK.”

Tapscott said the city wouldn’t appeal the ruling, but hinted her fight wasn’t over. “Maybe our mistake was in picking too petty of a crime,” she said. “Maybe people wouldn’t be so sympathetic if we targeted more serious criminals, like pedophiles or dead-beat dads.”
– Craig Gaines

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