Cookeville finds solution to fixed-ticket scandal:

The boo-boo 
that wouldn't go away

City council fixes everyone's tickets . . .
except those who have paid

Putnam Pit editor

COOKEVILLE [June 20, 1998] -- While ignoring ticket-fixing within the police department and failing for years to collect outstanding fines from lawyers, judges and county officials, Cookeville's city council hoped to end the scandal by calling outstanding tickets "uncollectable" and wiping the slate clean.

They have, in effect, fixed everyone's tickets.

But the action sticks in the back of the throat like uncooked okra.

The city has been maintaining through much of the last year that a new computer program would make the ticket boo-boo go away, but the new system is here and the boo-boo has not gone away.

No mention of what to do about law-abiding citizens who paid their fines on time; people who could afford to pay much less than can, for example, lawyer Craig Fickling, head of the local bar association, who had about 50 outstanding tickets the last time we checked. Shouldn't those who paid get their money back? This policy clearly rewards people for not paying their tickets.

The city's long-standing method of crisis-resolution is to let everyone win -- everyone but the taxpayers. The city found a way to reduce the amount of outstanding fines without actually having to do any of the work of collecting any of it, thereby making the police department and court look like they're catching up on the backlog while getting none of the revenue.

Spare us any more of your genius.

To call the unpaid tickets "uncollectable" is the city's way of saying "we have screwed this up so bad we have to give up our claim on the money."

The police argue that many of the tickets are written by officers who are no longer on the force.

"We're asking for you to give us the authority to dispose of all existing unpaid tickets ­ most of them are totally uncollectable," Police Chief Bill Benson reportedly asked the council.

How many is most? Which officers? How many were written by officers still on the force?

Can't you see the council in its secret meetings -- you know, the ones behind the scenes where they do the real business -- fussing about how to make it all go away before dinner.

Don't you just want to ask them, "Why do you have a court and police department at all?"

The Herald-Citizen reported Benson as saying: "And through the City Court clerk, if the ticket isn't paid on time, a letter will be issued, and if it is still not paid, then a warrant can be issued. This has never been done, but hopefully this will help the problem ­ because when you issue warrants, you start getting people's attention."

Now let's see, the police can't take care of collecting fines for parking tickets but now they're going to serve warrants and arrest people who don't pay their tickets in the future?

They're going to issue warrants for a civil debt?

This is the poison pill slap-in-the-public-face from the out-going city council, making sure that their final moments of authority are spent setting the foundation for more lawsuits against the city.

"Although no figure or money-amount can be determined as to the number of outstanding tickets, according to Police Lt. Nathan Honeycutt, the backlog is 'large'  and it would cost the city more money to try to collect the fines than the city would get out of it," The Herald-Citizen reported.

If he can't determine the number of tickets outstanding how can he know it will take "more money to try to collect the fines than the city would get out of it?"

The city paid T. Michael O'Mara $12,000 to prosecute a $40 speeding ticket? Why does cost of enforcement become a factor in some areas but not in others?

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