A day in the life of a WCU parking enforcement officer

Did you know parking services give out more parking permits than there are spaces? Did you know that Western Carolina University is one of the very few college campuses in the United States where freshman are permitted to park on campus?

As I approached the office of Earnest Hudson, assistant chief of police of Western Carolina University, I was bombarded with police uniforms scattered in the seat beside me, as I took a seat I was surrounded by paperwork and files everywhere, an untidy man or a busy man? I began to find out. He said, “Did you know that WCU cannot just build a parking deck overnight? Did you know that if it says faculty/staff parking only then that means you, a student cannot park there? Did you know there is as much faculty complaining than students? Also did you know students are beginning to try and forge parking permits?” I conclude, he is a busy man.

Next on my agenda was to physically get into the Parking Ticket Officers ‘golf cart’. It wasn’t a BMW but it did the job. Tommy Westbrook is the full time Parking Ticket Officer for WCU and I was about to embark on a journey of Western that I never thought I would, unless if I hijacked the cart, obviously.

Two sodas, two boxes of Copenhagen snuff, paperwork and a plastic cover ogled at me when I climbed into the cart. I however had to get in Mr. Westbrook’s side because my plastic door was, to use the best words, ‘out of order’. Yet inside this vehicle I met an extremely generous, intelligent and decent man. Have you as a student who receives these fines ever thought of the ‘ticket man’ as kind hearted? No. Yet have you perhaps read the rules of parking on campus? Most probably not.

On our travels we came to a parking lot where there was a jeep parked under a huge tree and in the bushes, on a hill and with no curb to stop it from rolling down into other vehicles. Beside this jeep was another vehicle parked on white crossed lines. I wonder what that means? There goes $40. The student however that owned the car came at the right time, calling out ‘oh God did I get a ticket, I’m sorry I will never do it again’. Mr. Westbrook let him off just because of the attitude. While interviewing Mr. Westbrook I learned many life skills. He told me it’s all about common courtesy, about manners and circumstances. One thing that stood out for me was, he said there’s no point in ‘beating your chest like Tarzan and ranting and raving because that isn’t going to help no one’ and he was right.

“There is only so much green space” Chief Hudson said. “It’s not a money making business.”

Many students said to me, ask him what he does with all our money. Students, he doesn’t get a penny, neither does the university. The Jackson County School children get the revenue. It goes from kindergarten right up to middle school and these citations help in the equality of the parking services and of the County.

The most common parking offense is unauthorized parking and the least common is getting a $10 fine for not hanging your permit. Booting occurs often and costs more but the simple fact is don’t park in a faculty/staff parking space.

Mr. Westbrook, or coach as many like to call/shout at him while we drive by because he spent 38 years coaching football, baseball, and track and field in Florida high schools, believes that if you take the time you will learn. He says people just don’t take the time to smell the roses. He believes it’s your attitude that makes your life and had a surprisingly positive attitude to his job when I asked him what it is like being an extremely hated man. He believes the way you respond to receiving your ticket makes all the difference. How he approaches his job says a lot about his personality and the love he has for his job.

While driving along the beautiful scenery of Western, students waved, shouted “hey coach” and smiled. What surprised me even more was that the coach knew their names if not their faces. There was a kind of relationship that I just couldn’t contemplate. Are WCU students respectable and mature in revealing the parking? Yes. Did I ever believe that? Never. I did get the juicy gossip however that twice, yes twice in three years, he got cursed at by freshman out of a window. Mr. Westbrook makes an interesting point on our travels, he said, “In higher education will they treat their employer the same way? 96 percent are understanding, yet you have the four or five percent that are just angry all the time and then it’s disrespectful and strictly business.”

The last question I had to ask was, Mr.Westbrook being a legendary coach for 38 years and proudly wearing his state championship gold ring on his finger, why was he here in the mountains of Western North Carolina? The simple answer was “young people keep me young” and being a coach for so long he knows how to handle the youth of today.

Students, this is no New York City Parking Officer, this is a respectable, polite and intelligent man who smiles way too much. He makes everyday count and takes a good outlook on his job yet is realistic when he says you can’t always have the ice-cream and the cake. Even when students approach him declaring “You were just looking for me” or “your picking on me” when they get a ticket, the calm composed Parking Officer Tommy Westbrook replays simply “Well you were parked in a fifteen minute zone for two hours.”

Has Westbrook himself received a parking ticket? Yes.

“Well it was 40 years ago but it just shows it happens to the best of us.”