December 30, 2011 in City

Santa delivers, gets lump of coal in return

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Mike Finocchiaro, dressed as Santa, holds his $450 ticket for parking in a handicapped space at St. Margaret’s Shelter on Christmas Eve.
(Full-size photo)

It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Mike “Finn” Finocchiaro was dressed as Santa. His two daughters – ages 2 and 6 – were done up as elves, as were his wife and sister. In the back of the truck were boxes full of presents for the children at St. Margaret’s Shelter, a safe space for families wrestling with homelessness, domestic violence and other chaos.

At first, Finn pulled up in front of the shelter on Hartson, but was told it would be better to leave that spot – the closest to the front door – open. He pulled into the empty parking lot – and into one of three open handicapped spots.

“I never, ever park in handicapped spots,” Finn said. “Never, ever, ever.”

Except this time. A shelter worker had told him to park wherever he needed to, he had a bunch of presents to unload, and he figured he’d be in and out in a short enough time that no one would be hurt, he said.

Santa and the elves went in. Handed out presents to the women and their children – the gifts of the season that Catholic Charities Executive Director Rob McCann calls a “Christmas miracle” for families who need one most. Came back outside about 20 minutes later and found a $450 ticket on the truck.

“We rely on donors to come through for us and thank God they do at Christmastime,” said McCann. “Otherwise, these kids would have nothing under the tree at Christmas. … You hate to see a Christmas miracle get rewarded with a $400 ticket.”

Finn and the shelter workers thought surely there were some extenuating circumstances here. That, perhaps, leniency might be warranted. Finn’s daughter, in particular, was perplexed and saddened.

“She’s 6 years old – she just can’t get her head around why that would happen,” he said.

Finn hopped in his truck and began looking for the parking enforcement officer, whom he soon found.

“I explained the whole situation,” Finn said. “I’m dressed as Santa. I said, ‘Hey, I’m dropping off like 10 boxes.’ ”

The officer said he could void the ticket if a supervisor approved it, Finn said. But a supervisor would not approve it.

“The word I got back was it’s a totally legitimate ticket, and I could go to court to contest it,” Finn said.

Workers at the shelter took up Finn’s cause as well.

“We were told, No, they’re not going to dismiss it,” McCann said. “I think it’s a little surprising, given the circumstances: Christmas Eve, donors dropping off gifts for homeless kids.”

Marlene Feist, spokeswoman for the city of Spokane, said parking enforcement officials are charged with making sure the handicapped spots are left open for the people who need them.

They don’t have discretion to decide whether tickets should be dismissed based on extenuating circumstances – once a ticket is written, they can’t choose to rip it up, even in cases where it may seem like a no-brainer to do so. Only a judge can do that, Feist said, and in this case, it’s important to remember that a judge still may.

Sharon Stadelman, assistant director of St. Margaret’s, made a few calls to the city on Finocchiaro’s behalf and heard much the same thing.

She understands that we don’t want parking officials routinely ripping up tickets for their buddies or their boss’s pals. And it’s important to let people know that those spots are not simply up for grabs as a convenience. And there was no way for the ticket writer to know he was bringing down the hammer on Santa.

Still, Stadelman said, it’s hard to understand a scenario with no room whatsoever for a little discernment or judgment.

“It’s sad to see they can’t make exceptions,” Stadelman said.

Finocchiaro is a 39-year-old Coeur d’Alene man whose company, Mike Finn Productions, produces large events like auto shows, concerts and conventions around the country. His wife, Kortney, teaches at University High. Finocchiaro grew up in south Philadelphia in less-than-lavish circumstances, and once his business started taking off, he wanted to do something for needy kids. He began playing Santa to various charities several years ago, calling his charity Santa’s Roadie.

Part of his motivation is to convey an important lesson to his daughters: “Christmas is about giving and not just getting.”

Finn could hardly have chosen a better place to direct his charity. St. Margaret’s is a 50-year-old community institution run by Catholic Charities. It provides housing and services for women and children who need a safe place to stay and help getting on their feet. Eighteen families there got a Christmas this year, thanks to people like Finn and his family.

“They were doing a great thing – they were donating to a shelter,” Stadelman said. “It’s just disheartening to see that happen on Christmas Eve.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.


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