Jodi Covey settles in as parking ‘ambassador’

MIDDLEBURY — Monikers like “meter maid” and “parking cop” are thankfully exiting the law enforcement lexicon.
Jodi Covey has a more elegant and diplomatic term for describing her role of directing people to parking spaces and local services, while ticketing vehicles that overstay their welcome:
“Parking ambassador.”
Though she says “parking enforcement officer” will do just fine.
Covey started the job with the Middlebury police this past April, and puts in around 25 hours a week, spring through the fall, strolling through downtown Middlebury helping locals and visitors in whatever way she can. While her primary task is to make sure the town’s parking ordinances are obeyed, Covey sees her role as much more.
She’s also a Good Samaritan, community ombudswoman, greeter and information clearinghouse about all things Middlebury. She’s an extra set of eyes and ears for Middlebury police, whose ranks happen to include her spouse, Sgt. Jason Covey.
“We’re like ships that pass in the night,” Jodi Covey smiled. “(Jason) works the evening shift and I work the day shift. But we do share a day off together. It does make it easy for me if I have a questions, I can get a hold of him real quick.”
It was only last year that Covey, a New Hampshire native, was serving her country as a member of the United State Air Force. Her primary task: Maintaining F-16 fighter jets while assigned to the 158th fighter wing of the Vermont Air National Guard.
While she enjoyed her work, an Air Force career often requires a ton of travel. And that’s not an ideal situation when you’re married with three small children.
So she looked around for a part-time gig that would allow her to serve people while at the same time keep an eye on the home front. She found the perfect match as Middlebury’s parking ambassador.
“I love this job,” she said. “I have to say this is one of my most favorite jobs, ever — not because of the enforcement aspect, but (the ability to) talk with the community. I have made so many friends.”
Indeed, you know you must have a magnetic personality if you can strike up a friendship while toting a pad of citations. But Covey doesn’t begin each day with the goal of snagging parking scofflaws. She stressed she has no parking ticket quota to meet, and her pay isn’t linked to the amount of fines she brings in.
Covey estimates she writes 5-10 tickets per day. At $5 a pop, the parking tickets aren’t meant to hurt people, but rather  discourage folks who would otherwise hog spaces for long periods of time. People, by nature, want to park as close to their destination as possible. Problem is, there are seniors and folks with disabilities who really need those prime places because they have difficulty walking to Main Street from the more remote, long-term municipal lots.
“(The parking tickets) are not there to bother people, they are there to keep people moving and abide by the two-hour limit,” Covey said. “I’m not there to bother anyone, to be this black-and-white ticket enforcer. I’m there to help downtown businesses, to keep people safe, and to be a friendly person.”
Unless otherwise marked, there’s a two-hour limit on downtown parking. It’s a three-hour limit in the lot behind the Ilsley Library, and a 30-minute limit on some spaces behind the adjacent municipal building at 77 Main St.
For those able to walk a minute or two, there are plenty of long-term parking spots in the municipal lots off Bakery Lane, Mill Street and Academy Street.
As a Middlebury resident who shops local whenever she can, Covey understands the parking challenges people face.
“I have myself experienced driving around, wanting to patronize a local business and I can’t, because there’s no parking and I have three little children and can’t walk from the other end of town,” Covey said. “So I have to keep driving.”
While she wants to see reasonable turnover in the parking spots, Covey doesn’t want people to feel hurried when they visit downtown Middlebury.
“I want people to shop downtown and have enough time to eat or grab a cup of coffee,” she said.
Young, gregarious and always upbeat, Covey can light up a parking lot with a quick salutation, kind words or just a beaming smile.
As a parking ambassador, Covey likes helping people find a restaurant, playground or specific store. She places a premium on suggesting safe places for people to park.
“I feel I almost have my finger on the pulse of downtown Middlebury,” she said. “I know what everybody needs. I go in and talk with the business owners. I speak with people on their walks. People get to know me and figure they can come up and talk to me about whatever is going on.”
Ebullient by nature, Covey begins each day as if it’s sunny and 80 degrees — even if it’s actually 50 degrees and raining. She never knows what she might encounter that day, though she’s prepared for the worst.
Covey received extensive medical training during her Air Force career, training she believes can be of service to her community. She’s certified in basic lifesaving skills and carries Narcan, a substance that can revive people overdosing on opioids.
“I come in contact with that population a lot,” she said of folks dealing with drug dependency issues. “I’ve gotten to know these people and they feel comfortable with me. I feel I am right there if anybody needs me.”
Covey’s position will take on even greater importance later this summer and especially next year, when work intensifies on a $72 million project to replace Middlebury’s two downtown rail bridges with a concrete tunnel. The project will cause construction disruption and temporarily remove several parking spots from Merchants Row and Main Street.
She’s been asking downtown stakeholders how she could help mitigate the project impacts.
“I don’t know what (the downtown) is going to look like, but it’s a little scary,” she said. “I’ll help in any way I can and will be as flexible as possible for people during that difficult time.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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