Truesdale discusses whether to issue default judgments against people who don't show up to court, and how to handle residents seeking late payment agreements.
Truesdale’s handling of no-shows for municipal court hearings and late payments of water bills are the latest in a slate of ordinances under review by the city’s board of aldermen.
City Attorney Kathleen Joyce told aldermen on Aug. 25 that she is reviewing the possibility of default convictions for certain city code violations when an accused person doesn’t show up for their court hearing. The policy would have to be voted on by aldermen as an ordinance, and would be aimed at closing out municipal court cases in a more timely manner.
“If they have a ticket that does not affect their license, like a high grass ticket or junk auto ticket, we could make an ordinance that if they don’t show up to court ... they could be judged as guilty and get their fine,” Joyce explained. “Right now, if people don’t show up to court, we end up issuing O.R. (own recognizance) warrants, so it’s a catch-and-release program. ... They’ll get picked up on the warrant, then they just bond themselves out.”
The reason to close a case faster, rather than letting it drag until the defendant shows in court, is that it would save the city time and resources on minor cases, Joyce said. The downside of the change, she added, is that the current system of arresting and releasing offenders has a way of annoying them into compliance to take care of their violations.
Joyce clarified that she isn’t necessarily endorsing the change, just informing aldermen of the option.
When asked by aldermen, Police Chief Casey Doyle said he would rather stick with the current system of waiting to fine people until they’re in court, and potentially raising fines enough to motivate people to correct violations.
“If they get pulled over and arrested because they have a warrant for tall grass and they didn’t take care of that $25 fine, then so be it,” Doyle said. “I would rather raise the fines, not substantially, but enough that you cut your grass, or the car with three flat tires and no license plates will get moved.”
Aldermen said they saw benefits and downsides for both systems, noting that their goal is to achieve code compliance while minimizing the city’s expenses for court or fine collection. No action was taken in August.
At the same Aug. 25 meeting, Mayor Chris Watson proposed changing how the city handles people who request extensions for their water bill payments. Currently, payment agreements need to be requested in-person at a public board of aldermen meeting.
Watson said he would like a process that doesn’t subject residents to public embarrassment.
“I really don’t like ... that if somebody’s coming in on a hardship, they have to come in here and sit in front of everybody and let us know what their hardship is,” Watson said. He proposed allowing city staff to meet with struggling residents and then make payment agreement recommendations to the board on their behalf.
Also under consideration is a suggestion from city staff that they be empowered to grant a temporary payment agreement without board approval, so late payers aren’t waiting weeks to get their water turned back on.
No action was taken on the proposal.