9 Investigates: Orange County Clerk of Courts employees benefit from parking deal

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - A parking deal at the Orange County courthouse provides hundreds of preferred spots for the employees of Clerk of Courts Lydia Gardner. Channel 9's Kathi Belich found that the costly arrangement makes it harder for other court employees and members of the public to find parking.

Many weekday mornings, finding a space in the courthouse garage can be nearly impossible. Recently, a Channel 9 news crew drove to the garage's seventh level before finding the first open space. Many others had to go all the way to the roof level.

"It is very aggravating," said one man who said he regularly looks for parking in the garage, which sits alongside the courthouse.

As many as 9,000 people come to the courthouse each day. But the parking garage there has 1,441 spaces. Employees who work for the clerk of courts have 301 of those spots.

Other courthouse workers, some who even have parking passes, often can't find a space.

"Sometimes you're going up and down and all around," said courthouse worker Sean Landers. "Sometimes you have to end up on the street for a couple hours and then come back."

The county negotiated a few years ago to lease more spaces in the city-owned garage for the clerk's employees. That deal went through even though the spots cost $2,000 more per month than previous spaces cost at the city's Centroplex garage.

The county told Belich that the city wanted to lease out the more expensive spaces because they weren't being used, but the city told Belich that's not true. They said that it was all the county's idea.

These days, the nearby Centroplex parking garage sits practically empty. Courthouse workers could be using those cheaper spaces and either walking a few extra minutes or taking a shuttle to the courthouse.

Meanwhile, the city of Orlando could be losing out on the deal. Orange County pays $75 per month for spaces that the city could charge four times as much for -- $300 per month -- by offering them to the public.

The county's lease for the prime parking spaces is paid with traffic fines. That means drivers with tickets have the hassle of finding courthouse parking before waiting in line to pay their fines to the same people who have the prime spaces.

That same fund pays for repairs inside the courthouse, where escalators often break down and make the painfully long elevator lines even longer. But courthouse visitors still have to find a parking space first.

"It's just miserable," courthouse regular Bryan Hugo said of the parking situation.

Belich found that Orange County pays nearly $173,000 per year for the clerk's spaces at the courthouse garage. Gardner married the man who oversees the county department that made the deal, John Terwilliger. Records show that parking deal was done two years before they were married.