Last summer, Pam Simmons gave her 2006 Toyota minivan to her son, Mark, as a graduation present after he graduated from the United States Naval Academy. After receiving his commission, Ensign Mark Simmons began training on the East Coast to be a submarine officer in the Navy.
On his quick trip home to pick up the van, he went to a Secretary of State’s office to transfer the title and get new license plates. He registered the minivan to his parents’ Riverside address.
When the village of Riverside began its crackdown on village sticker enforcement this year, Pam Simmons was notified that she needed stickers on both a 2004 and 2006 minivan.
At her adjudication hearing on July 13, she produced proof that she had traded in her 2004 van when she bought the 2006 van, so that part of her case was dismissed. But she was told that the 2006 minivan her son now owns still had to have a Riverside village sticker, even though her son has been shuttling between Groton, Conn., and Charleston S.C., for nuclear training.
That didn’t seem right to Simmons.
“He will never live here, because he’s a submarine officer and they don’t have submarines here,” Simmons said. “It will never be driven in Riverside.”
However, a clerk in the finance department told her that the van had to have a Riverside village sticker.
“She said it doesn’t matter where he lives, he still has to pay for it, because he used an Illinois address when he came here to change the title and buy his license plates,” Simmons said.
At her adjudication session, the hearing officer, John Morrissey, ruled for the village. Riverside Village Attorney Lance Malina explained the ruling.
“The village attorney smiled very prettily at me and told me it doesn’t matter where he lives, he still has to pay for it,” Simmons said.
This still didn’t seem right to Simmons, so she called Congressman Dan Lipinski’s office and explained the situation. She said she was told that it didn’t seem right, but it was not a federal matter, so they couldn’t do anything about it. They suggested that she write a letter to Village President Mike Gorman.
On July 21, she dropped off a letter to Gorman at village hall. She says that she never received a response. Gorman said he received the letter and forwarded it to staff.
“Yeah, I got the letter and I made sure it was followed up on,” Gorman said. “I just made sure that a resident’s letter got addressed to a resident’s satisfaction. When I got the letter, I called it to the village manager’s attention and he took it over. I know that it got addressed.”
She talked to village Finance Director Kevin Wachtel and others in the finance department, and she says she was told that if the sticker wasn’t purchased, the bill would be turned over to bill collectors. So, frustrated and angry, she finally bought the $90 village sticker, because she didn’t want to bother her son, who is undergoing training for 12 hours a day.
“He’s extraordinarily busy,” Simmons said. “He can’t play little diddly games like this, so I just paid it for my son. I did pay it, because I was threatened.”
Simmons still did not give up, and called the Illinois Secretary of State’s non-standard registration processing division in Springfield. She explained the situation and the Secretary of State’s office managed to switch the van’s registration to South Carolina.
So Simmons marched into village hall and asked for a refund of her $90.
“We don’t give refunds,” she says she was told by clerk in the finance department. She demanded to see Wachtel.
She told Wachtel that the only reason she bought the sticker was that she was threatened.
“He rolled his eyes at me and said that I wasn’t threatened, and I said that I was threatened with bill collectors,” Simmons said.
So Simmons asked for and received a letter from the Secretary of State’s office confirming the change in registration for the van. She marched right back into village hall talked to Wachtel for a second time and showed him the letter.
Finally on July 30 Wachtel agreed to refund the $90 Simmons says.
“We are refunding the money back to her,” Wachtel said. “She brought in proof that the vehicle is actually not registered to a Riverside address. Based on that, we’re going to refund the money.”
Simmons was frustrated by the whole experience.
“They don’t believe you when you explain what happened,” Simmons said.