2007-10-20 / News

Trustees discuss traffic laws enforcement

By Scott Rawdon

HEBRON- For every traffic ticket the Union Township Police write, the officeris, in a sense, writing the township a ticket as well, said Union Township Trustee Jack Justice Monday night. "Every ticket we write in reality costs us money," he said.

The subject came up during the trustees' regular meeting when resident Bill Garrett said he was stopped in Kirkersville for travelling approximately 55 miles per hour in a 35 miles per hour zone. He said he was cited for $225 and two points from his license. However, Garrett, who challenged the ticket, said Kirkersville's magistrate told him he could plea bargain to a $160 finefor an equipment violation.

The Kirkersville magistrate could not be reached to verify the claim.

Tuesday, Newark Law Director Douglas Sassen said he's not surprised Union Township takes a loss on its tickets and, generally speaking, while plea bargaining in Mayor's Courts is ethical, it may not be appropriate.

"That's entirely possible," Sassen said of Justice's claim. Since Union Township does not have a Mayor's Court, all its tickets are processed through Municipal Court, meaning the ticket revenue is not going into the township's General Fund, said Sassen. "(The township) isn't keeping the lion's share," he said. Township police departments in general are a bit of a relic, said Sassen, but can be advantageous in heavily populated townships that can't rely on the local sheriff or highway patrol for strict traffic enforcement.

It doesn't bother Sassen that townships make no money from traffic enforcement. "They're not in the money making business," he said. "The benefit is a safer motoring environment."

Union Township Police Chief Paula Greene said the expense of writing tickets does not discourage township officersfrom writing them. "Oh, heavens no," she said. "They're out to enforce the laws. If you're caught, you're caught." She estimates Union Township officerswrite one to two speeding tickets per week; according to Licking County Municipal Court records, Union Township officerswrote 24 tickets in 2006. It's important to note the sheriff's department and the highway patrol also watch for speeders. Greene said nabbing speeders is not her department's primary focus.

As far as plea bargaining in Mayor's Court is concerned, "It's legal," said Sassen. Most municipalities have traffic violation fineschedules, he said, and it's up to the magistrate how to use it. In any court, a person has the right to introduce new information that may change a judge's mind or prompt a reduced fine, but as far as changing a charge from speeding to an equipment violation and changing points on a license, "We don't do it," he said. "The law is what it is." If the person is speeding, then the person is speeding, said Sassen. While changing the charge is not unethical, it can be inappropriate. Ohio villages commonly have aggressive traffic enforcement, he said, which is at the root of a movement in the state legislature to ban Mayor's Courts entirely. Some legislators believe Mayor's Courts encour age speed traps because much of the revenue from tickets goes to the municipality's General Fund. Currently, Ohio and Louisiana are the only states with Mayor's Courts.

In other Union Township news:

• The trustees accepted a bid from the Shelly Company to pave the section of Swamp Road between US 40 and Palmer Rd. for $35,373. Justice abstained from vote. The trustees turned down a bid from Kokosing Construction for $42,900.

• Hebron Fire Department Chief Randy Weekly said the MansfieldWarehousing building in the Hebron Industrial Park was having problems with its alarm system and randomly sent six or seven false alarms to the department before the problem was repaired. As inconvenient as it was, he said, the department had no choice but to respond to each alarm.

• Resident Steve White, who owns property with frontage on Gale Road, wanted to change his access to Blue Stone Drive in the Stone Creek subdivision, which his property also abuts. The trustees said they don't have a problem with it, but it's really the county's decision since the county has the right-of-way. "It sounds like it's going to end up in the commissioners' lap," said Justice.

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