Council hears new proposal for Mayor’s Court cases
- Published: September 20, 2018
A new plan to bring more cases before the Yellow Springs Mayor’s Court was discussed at Council’s Sept. 4 meeting.
The plan modifies an earlier proposal that the Justice System Task Force, or JSTF, presented to Council in May that all misdemeanor and traffic offenses that can legally be tried in the local court are tried there.
The modified policy would require all misdemeanor violations to come before Mayor’s Court with several exceptions, as well as all parking citations and traffic violations, moving or standing.
Officers, under the policy, would be required to cite offenders for these violations using the Yellow Springs Ordinances, which sends the case to Mayor’s Court rather than Ohio Revised Code, which sends them to Xenia.
However, first-time OVIs, short for “operating a vehicle while intoxicated,” would be cited using Ohio Revised Code and thus sent to Xenia, according to a memo on the modified policy from the JSTF Mayor’s Court subcommittee, Mayor Pam Conine, Village Manager Patti Bates and Police Chief Brian Carlson.
While OVIs can legally be sent to Mayor’s Court, the decision was made to send them to Xenia, where a prosecutor can reduce the charges, according to Council member Lisa Kreeger.
“It’s just not considered best practice to have first-time OVIs come to Mayor’s Court without having a prosecutor,” Kreeger said.
Village Manager Patti Bates added that often first-time OVI charges are reduced to reckless operation, an outcome which wouldn’t be possible at Mayor’s Court without a prosecutor.
“The Mayor does not have the legal ability to reduce the charge,” Bates explained.
Misdemeanor violations would not be sent to Mayor’s Court if they are for domestic violence, assault or crimes of violence, violations of protection orders or compact law suspensions, or if the offender resides outside of Greene County, according to the memo.
In addition, the modified policy clarifies that disorderly conduct cases should be sent to the local court, as “these cases are often some of the most politically charged,” according to the memo.
The modified version addressed concerns aired by Conine and Carlson in May. Along with Bates, the two met with the Mayor’s Court subcommittee of the Justice Systems Task Force in August to craft the modified policy.
Village Solicitor Chris Conard said the modified proposal supports a goal of restorative justice.
“It’s all consistent with the principles you’ve been talking about for years,” Conard said.
A resolution adopting the policy may be considered by Council at an upcoming meeting.
In a related discussion, Council member Judith Hempfling shared a timeline for Council to consider the final recommendations of the Justice System Task Force, which is set to disband at the end of the year.
One JSTF recommendation is for Council to create a standing Justice System Commission to continue the task force’s work. From the floor, JSTF member David Turner questioned the proposal.
“I personally don’t think a permanent task force is a good idea because that says that we can’t fix our justice system — that is scary to me,” he said.
Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen challenged the current process in place with the JSTF, which she said doesn’t allow Council members to weigh in on task force recommendations until they come before Council.
“All of these things are hugely critical things and they are being decided outside of Council right now,” MacQueen said.
Hempfling defended the process, saying that all recommendations are ultimately debated and decided by Council, and that the group is working hard to complete its work. Among the JSTF recommendations set to come before Council are the feasibility of a civilian review board, establishing a diversion and restorative justice program in Mayor’s Court and providing a local public defender, according to a memo from Hempfling.
“You gave us a lot to do,” Hempfling said of JSTF’s charge.
In other Council business:
• Garbage and recycling pickup is now more expensive. Council unanimously passed a new version of an ordinance extending the Village’s solid waste contract with Rumpke and raising rates for local garbage and recycling collection. The original version Council passed in August contained an error, according to Bates.
Bates also clarified that rates will rise three percent this year and an additional three percent next year. The first rate hike takes effect, retroactively, Sept. 1. The next increase will be on Sept. 1, 2019. The rate hike is tied to an increase in the amount Rumpke is charging the Village, Bates said. The Village is simply passing on that increase, she added.
• Council took another step towards setting up a fund to help local utility customers struggling to pay their bills. Council unanimously approved an ordinance that officially creates a utility round-up fund.
Under the program, utility customers can choose to round up their bill to the nearest dollar amount, donating the difference to a household at risk of having their utilities shut off, up to $200.
After Council creates the fund, the state auditor must approve the fund before the Village can begin collecting money, a process which can take up to 30 days, according to Bates.
Kreeger said the goal is to have the program, in the works for more than a year, in place by the start of 2019.
“We know it’s important for the community in winter when utility costs are very high,” Kreeger said of the timing.
Kreeger also announced that the Village found a nonprofit partner to evaluate applications to decide who receives utility round-up funds — the Yellow Springs Senior Center. Bates added that the Village would make the applications anonymous before sending them to the center.
Council member Kevin Stokes clarified at the meeting that round-up fund donors would have to opt-in each month.
“If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to do it,” Stokes said.
From the floor, local resident Leslie Scheper questioned Council’s decision to tap villagers to help others struggling with their bills and she cited recent utility fund surpluses in arguing that rates should be lowered.
“I’d like to know what the Village is doing about lowering the rates for everybody,” Scheper said.
In terms of electric rates, Council members went on to defend the Village’s renewable energy contracts. Council members also explained that the surpluses are needed to make long needed infrastructure repairs in the Village.
“We are looking very closely at this dollar amount and seeing what we can give back to the community,” Kreeger said of the surpluses. “But I’m not confident that we can, given what I know about our infrastructure in the community.”
• The Antioch Village pilot project moved closer to reality. Council voted 4–0 to rezone an Antioch property on the north side of East North College Street from Educational (E-1) to High-density Residential (R-C). Stokes recused himself from the discussion and the vote because he is an Antioch employee.
Antioch is planning a pocket neighborhood of eight small, energy-efficient homes clustered around a central courtyard on the property, which is slightly less than one acre.
The Planning Commission had reviewed the rezoning application at its Aug. 13 meeting and found that it met the five requirements for rezoning. In addition, the commission found, the project helps Antioch achieve its campus vision while fulfilling municipal goals for infill development and increased density.
In a statement before Council, Malte von Matthiessen, chair of the Antioch College Board of Trustees’ facilities committee, said that the project will increase tax revenue for the Village as it helps both entities meet their goals through collaboration.
Council President Brian Housh added that he sees the project benefitting the Village.
“One of the things we are very interested in is infill and any other activity that will support our housing goals and a diversity of housing,” Housh said.
The next step for the project is to acquire a conditional use permit, according to a memo from Village Planning and Zoning Administrator Denise Swinger. Planning Commission discussed the permit at its Sept. 10 meeting and will recommend that Council approve it.
Last year the Village approved the new pocket neighborhood development as a conditional use, a zoning designation which allows for much higher density.
• The Village will request proposals for two engineering studies looking at local infrastructure. The first is for a storm water survey with recommendations to improve storm water drainage in the Village. The second is for a study of the electric system to see if any upgrades are needed, including possibly a third circuit due to development in the western part of the Village. Council unanimously passed two ordinances paving the way for Bates to advertise the request for proposals, or RFPs.
At MacQueen’s urging, Bates agreed to amend the storm water RFP to note a preference for permeable surfaces, swales and other natural methods for storm water management.
Bates and Village Public Works Director Johnnie Burns said the studies will guide them to make the needed upgrades to local infrastructure.
“I realize that the budget is a concern to a lot of people, but [not having a study] has held us back,” Bates said.
•Council prioritized land for greenspace. In a unanimous vote, Council approved a resolution affirming where it wants the Tecumseh Land Trust to focus its land preservation efforts. The resolution identifies as the first priority, the area west of the Village in the Jacoby Greenbelt; as the second priority, land within the five-year time-of-travel zone adjacent to the Village’s water treatment plant; and as a third priority, land east and south of the Glen Helen Nature Preserve known as the “country commons.”
Krista Magaw, executive director of the land trust, said that knowing local priorities helps the land trust choose which landowners to reach out to in any given year. Those easements are partially funded with municipal money set aside in a green space fund. Although the land trust works mainly in two counties, no other municipality has a green space commitment as Yellow Springs does.
“This is the only municipality that has wanted to have a greenbelt around it,” Magaw said.
• RVs parked in local streets may soon have to move. Bates brought to Council a recommendation to take up the issue with both an amendment to the zoning code limiting camper occupancy periods to 72 hours, and a change to the general offenses code that would allow the Village to ticket recreational vehicles parked in the street, except when they are being loaded or unloaded. Recreational vehicles include boats, campers, mobile homes, pop-up campers and trailers. The matter was discussion only.
Bates said that in addition to frequent neighbor complaints, the Village’s emergency vehicles, street cleaners and snow plows are hindered by large vehicles parked in the roadway for long stretches.
“We do have streets where, believe it or not, this is a real problem,” Bates said.
At its June 11 meeting, Planning Commission unanimously agreed to recommend that staff move ahead with the change to the general offenses code. The commission has yet to weigh in on the zoning code change.
•Several public works projects are expected in the next month, according to Bates.
The Bryan Center parking lot will be closed for repaving and striping for two to three days in September, during which time visitors to the center should park in the municipal lot at 102 Dayton Street.
Tree trimming on the south end of town has started.
Brown water is likely in town as Village crews exercise valves in preparation for unidirectional flushing.
In mid-September, paving will take place on East Limestone Street, Railroad Street, and Corry Street from Dayton Street to the Glen Helen entrance.
•Council’s next meeting is Monday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m., in Council Chambers.