By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — It won’t be as easy as it sounds to provide free parking for veterans in Peabody.
Postman Daniel Heafey wants veterans to park for free at city meters, and he got a ringing endorsement for the idea at the City Council’s legal affairs subcommittee last Thursday. He’s now conferring with police Capt. Joseph Berardino on ways to institute the policy.
It all started with a nickel, said Heafey, a Cold War veteran (1974 to 1978) who traces some hearing loss and a bad knee to some rough work in the military police. More recently, he was parking in downtown Peabody.
“I put a nickel in the meter,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “I was gone for 15 minutes, and I got a ticket.”
Heafey told the council that he brooded over the incident for a year before deciding to do something about it. Mostly, it’s a question of gratitude, he said, giving veterans a small privilege in recognition for years and years of service.
“It won’t have a great financial impact on the city,” he said. “It’s just a way of saying, ‘Thank you, you’re not forgotten.’”
He has described the project as Operation Eternal Gratitude.
The council responded with universal praise.
“I think it’s a fine gesture and something that should be done,” Councilor Bob Driscoll said.
“A good idea,” Councilor Arthur Athas said.
“A great idea,” Councilor Dave Gamache said.
Council President Tom Gould told the subcommittee, “It’s a good thing for the city.”
Finally, Councilor Anne Manning-Martin told Heafey that his experience might have been worse.
“If you were in Salem, your parking ticket would have been three times as much, and you would have gotten it sooner,” she said.
Berardino, the area commander in the downtown, also backed the plan.
“The chief and I think it’s a great idea,” he told the subcommittee. “We want to extend as much as we can to the veterans.”
But practical considerations, he added, will require careful thought before it can be put into practice. For example, allowing someone to park for free can’t be permission to park for extended periods — parking meters might raise money, but their first purpose is to allow multiple shoppers and others to come and go at regular intervals in places like the downtown.
Speaking after the meeting, Berardino indicated that the veterans might be distinguished by their license plates. Massachusetts, he noted, gives plates to disabled veterans, Purple Heart winners and former prisoners of war, among others. The state also offers veteran plates for a special fee.
On the other hand, Berardino cautioned that steps need to be established so the privilege is not abused by people who are not veterans but might have access to a veteran’s vehicle. Further, the parking privilege cannot extend to parking spaces set aside for special circumstances, he said.