City council hears about a new expenditure, and a saving

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

By Karen Hall


For the second month in a row, District Attorney Rob Carter and Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barnard visited Lewisburg City Council's work session to explain the solution to a new problem with city court.

"I think it should be your No. 1 issue," said Carter. "It's imperative we deal with it now. Liabilities could come at any second, and they will be bad."

The problem is that the State Attorney General's recently stated an opinion, which is: in order to prosecute violations of state law in municipal court, the prosecutor must come from the District Attorney's -- in this case Carter's -- office, and be paid by the city.

Since the opinion was stated, nothing has happened, said Carter. At any moment, however, an attorney could file suit on behalf of a client, claiming that because the prosecution was not done according to law, the conviction should be overturned, costs and fines refunded, and community service or jail time repaid.

Carter has already been talking to lawyers who might be interested in working for his office, with the City of Lewisburg paying their part-time salary and benefits. The cost to the city could be somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000 per year, depending on the benefits required.

The municipal court, one of the few left in Tennessee, makes money for the city, and councilmen could see the advantage of bringing it into compliance with the law.

"We need to make a decision next Tuesday (at the Council's monthly meeting)," exclaimed Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr.

"If we see we're in the red, can we opt out?" asked Councilman Robin Minor.

"If you want to keep prosecuting in municipal court, you have to keep paying for a prosecutor," said Carter.

City Manager Randall Dunn confirmed he had asked Treasurer Donna Park to include the cost of a part-time prosecutor in next year's budget.

City councilmen also heard how the city could save money.

Police Chief Chuck Forbis gave a presentation on the consolidation of public safety answer points in Marshall County.

"We've been exploring it for years," he said. "We've been looking at it hard the last two or three years. Now we're trying to present it to the individual governments."

Forbis explained that emergency calls are all answered at the Lewisburg Police Department. If they relate to a fire or police call inside the city, the appropriate responders are dispatched right away. If the caller is asking for medical help, or assistance out in the county, or in Chapel Hill or Cornersville, the call is transferred to the Marshall County Sheriff's Department or the Emergency Medical Service, and they do the dispatching. This results in delays, and callers having to answer questions about their emergency at least twice.

Consolidated dispatch is being encouraged by the state emergency communications board, because it will result in increased efficiency, decreased costs, and enhanced delivery of service.

In Marshall County, consolidation would result in fewer employees and reduced maintenance fees. Furthermore, the LPD dispatchers would no longer be employees of the city, they would be employees of the 911 Board.

A formula based on population and number of calls for service has been worked out, and Lewisburg's cost should go down by $117,000.

"I like it," exclaimed Minor.

"Will it cut our dispatchers out of a job?" asked Whitehead.

"No," Forbis replied. "We have some who are retirement eligible."

"Have you seen resistance from Cornersville and Chapel Hill?" asked Mayor Jim Bingham.

"We did see some from Chapel Hill," said Forbis. "Remember they have not been paying a dime. They understand the importance of consolidation and the benefit of quicker service, but the money was a big shock to them."

"What about the county commission?" asked Bingham.

"The mayor (Joe Boyd Liggett) has been in all our meetings, and he has been supportive," said Forbis. "We need the support of all involved, or it can't happen. We can't let it go by the wayside because two smaller municipalities don't want to participate."

Forbis said the 911 Board had studied the progress of consolidation in McMinn County, where some of the small communities held out for a year, and then asked to be allowed to come in.