August 24, 2010 10:23:00 AM
WEST POINT -- After months of discussion, West Point''s city judge appeared before the Board of Selectmen Thursday during a special called meeting to address concerns about the current municipal court probation system.
In recent meetings, several board members have voiced their displeasure with probation officers from services outside West Point receiving fees for keeping track of probationers, many of whom have been slow to pay their fees. City Attorney Orlando Richmond has informed the board several times it does not have the power to alter the system and can take no official action, but the issue continues to be a point of conversation at board meetings.
Mark Cliett explained that, after meeting with the board at an April work session, he has ceased placing offenders on probation except in flagrant cases. He could recall just two offenders being placed on probation in recent months, both for domestic violence.
Without placing offenders on probation, Cliett says the representatives from the contracted probation services no longer receive their $50 fee. However, he says the probationers were responsible for paying the fee, not the city.
When Ward 2 Selectman Homer Cannon expressed concern that city manpower and facilities were being used to apprehend and jail probation violators, Cliett replied the manpower is "going to be used, regardless."
Cliett told the board he prefers to avoid jailing violators whenever possible because it inhibits their ability to hold a job and pay the fine as well as incurring costs for the city to house and feed them. When offenders are delinquent in their payments he extends their fines.
Because fewer offenders are being placed on probation, Cliett and his bailiff, Daniel Irons, have taken on the responsibility of keeping track of who owes how much and whether offenders are attending mandated anger management or drug treatment counseling. He schedules regular returns to municipal court for the offenders in lieu of placing them on probation.
While Cliett was before the board, Ward 3 Selectman Charles Collins pointed out that city revenue from municipal court fines dipped by more than $60,000 around the time Cliett took over as judge in 2008. When Cliett pointed to the economy as a possible explanation for the decrease Collins replied criminal offenses generally rise during a recession.
Soon after Cliett''s exchange with Collins began, Richmond reminded the board that the judge''s job was not to make money for the city.
"His job is to adjudicate justice -- not a revenue generator," said Richmond.
Cliett was dismissed after Richmond again reminded the board it could take "no formal official action" with respect to how the municipal court operates.
Revisiting another recurring topic, the board took a step toward funding West Point''s fledgling animal shelter.
The board voted 3-2 against granting $25,000 in budgeted funds for the animal shelter at its Aug. 10 meeting citing concerns over language in the contract not specifying a termination date.
Thursday the board asked Richmond to draft a new contract and present it at the September meeting. However, several board members remained non-committal to providing the money.
Ward 1 Selectman Rod Bobo reminded the board that the $25,000 was already budgeted, but Collins recalled how during a special July meeting to beat the budget deadline Mayor Scott Ross told the board it could amend the budget at a later date but had to pass one to keep the city operating.
Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman wondered aloud why the animal shelter should be granted funds when other groups have not. Dr. Johnnie Raspberry spoke at the board''s Aug. 10 meeting requesting funds for tutoring and mentoring programs for Clay County youth through his nonprofit, Southern Atlantic Corp.
"If we do for one, we need to do for another. If we''re going to give $25,000 to the animal then when someone asks for money for the kids we''re going to turn a deaf ear?" said Pittman.
In other business the board:
1. Shifting to local: Coffee shop rebrands after getting new owner COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. Murder, arson case ends in mistrial COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Accessory suspect accuses victim's friend in murder COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY