A group of armed services veterans has questioned why a St. Peters alderman is allegedly using parking spaces that the city has designated for Purple Heart recipients.
“We have a serious problem, I could be wrong but I don’t believe so,” said U.S. Navy veteran Daryl Perkins, who is a past commander of Veterans of Foreign War Post 10350 in Lake Saint Louis. Perkins was among four veterans who spoke during the public comment portion of the June 22 St. Peters Board of Aldermen meeting.
“Alderman Michael Shea continues to park in a space reserved for Purple Heart recipients. It’s really simple, it’s just not right, it’s just not right,” Perkins said.
Shea, a retired 21-year U.S. Army veteran with combat tours in Vietnam and in southwest Asia during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, did not respond to the comments at the board meeting. He was elected as a Ward 3 alderman in 2015 and also served on the St. Peters Veterans Memorial Commission.
“I’d rather not comment publicly on it right now,” Shea said when contacted on June 26, “Not at this time but maybe in the future.” He would not say if he parked in the spaces.
Perkins said Shea’s action “shows a total disrespect for a sign that is clearly marked for men or women that have combat wounds protecting our country.”And he asked the city to correct the situation. If Shea was awarded a Purple Heart, he can show it on his service papers, Perkins said.
Ralph Barrale, an active World War II U.S. Army veteran from the same VFW post in Lake Saint Louis, thanked city officials for establishing the special parking spaces, but said, “Something is happening in St. Peters that is bothering my fellow veterans. These spaces are being abused.”
Last year, the board agreed to designate three parking spaces – one near the west entrance to city hall, one near the entrance to the city’s Rec-Plex and one near the St. Peters City Centre Veterans Memorial – for Purple Heart recipients. The pavement on the spaces is painted purple and each is further designated with a sign bearing the Purple Heart logo and the words “combat wounded.” The city also set aside two special Purple Heart parking spaces at the annual Celebrate St. Peters celebration last September at 370 Lakeside Park.
The city dedicated the spaces last July 13. Since that time, several veterans have said Shea’s pickup truck has been seen parking in the spaces. At least once, they say it has been photographed while parked in a Purple Heart space.
The Purple Heart is a U.S. military decoration awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who are wounded by an enemy combatant or those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action.
Alderman Terri Violet [Ward 3] suggested designating the spaces last year. She commended the veterans for coming forward at the June 22 meeting. “You have every reason to be upset,” she said.
In a later interview, Violet said that her request last year for special parking spaces for Purple Heart receipts was not put in the form of an ordinance. The city’s administration designated the spaces after being directed to do so at a May 2016 board work session. At that session, Alderman Judy Bateman [Ward 2] said the city probably would not have an enforcement problem. “I don’t see people abusing this,” Bateman said at the time.
Violet said the designation “is not enforceable.” Someone parking in one of the spots who isn’t a Purple Heart recipient will not be fined or forced to leave the spot, she said. The spots are set up based on the honor system. She said veterans and city officials have seen Shea parking in various Purple Heart parking spaces. “You wouldn’t think someone from the board would park there. We’re supposed to be an example,” she said.
Aldermen and veterans have tried to talk to Shea about the reports of his parking in the spots and have asked for an explanation. “He’s refused to talk,” Violet said. “It’s shocked me.”
Shea would not discuss the alleged incidents. When asked if there was an alternative interpretation for being wounded rather than being a Purple Heart recipient he said “you may be on the right trail there.” But he refused to elaborate.
Mayor Len Pagano said, “He has a different interpretation of that.”
Shea offered some explanation in an email sent to Pagano and other board members during the June 22 board meeting. “It is not my intention to pay disrespect to any veteran,” Shea wrote. “This subject should be about the many veterans that are excluded by one’s definition of the designated spaces. These spaces were unveiled and presented as spaces for ‘Combated Wounded.’“So I will submit for future discussion to clear the confusion whether the spaces are for ‘Combated Wounded’ or for those who were presented the ‘Purple Heart.’ I apologize for the misunderstanding and hope it can be resolved. I would have hoped that before another veteran publicly questions one’s record, or disabilities, they would discuss it first hand with the veteran.”
Violet, who, along with her husband, is a Navy veteran, said of the spaces, “My sole purpose [was] to bring honor to Purple Heart veterans. It never occurred to me it would be confusing to anybody.”
Meanwhile, Barrale, who played a key role in getting St. Charles County local governments to designate the Interstate 70 south outer road as Veterans Memorial Parkway, said the city may have to go beyond simply designating special parking spaces. The city should pass an ordinance that gives police more authority to enforce the special parking designation, he told aldermen. Violet said that may be explored.
Pagano agreed that enforcement is a problem. “You’re right,” Pagano said in a later interview. But Pagano said it’s unclear right now if the city passing an ordinance is the answer. Local state legislators may have to be involved.
“I know the veterans are pretty upset,” Pagano said. “I have told two that I don’t know how we can enforce this without the state introducing some parking restrictions with penalties.”
Special designated parking for the handicapped is supported by the American Disabilities Act, which gives authorization to enforce those restrictions. Enforcement of a Purple Heart designation spots may require statewide authority. “It’s not that easy,” Pagano said.