CALERA — Judge Michael Haggerty issued a simple but direct request to city officials considering changes to a municipal court policy on deferred traffic tickets: “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Calera Councilman Brian Norton brought up the issue after a number of citizen complaints over the past year regarding the municipal court’s discretion on traffic tickets and the growing burden on city employees to handle the case load. One issue is the process of deciding which traffic tickets can be deferred from a driver’s record.
Police Chief Don Hyde, Haggerty and City Attorney Chris Jones all agreed that the decision to defer a traffic ticket from a driver’s record is often based upon the defendant’s demeanor at the traffic stop. Enforcement, citation and judgment for original infractions (usually speeding) were not part of the issue brought up Tuesday.
Norton and other council members specifically wanted to know if there was a speed threshold for refusal to defer the judgment from appearing on a driver’s record. Haggerty said anything over 80 mph in any of Calera’s speed zones would not be deferred, a decision which can have expensive consequences for a driver’s insurance rates.
In other cases, the decision is left to the discretion of officers handling the traffic stop and recommendations made to the municipal judge. Jones said cases should be handled on an individual basis due to unique circumstances of each traffic stop, noting that officer discretion to send a case to the judge can depend on “some people being flat-out jerks.”
Norton was proposing a set policy on the subject, which could have included guidelines for city employees on municipal court days, as well as a possible “deferral fee.” But the issue was ultimately tabled with the city attorney, municipal judge and police chief in agreement to discuss the practice and report to the council at a later date.
The discussion brought up an interesting issue for drivers who are pulled over by the police. The driver’s demeanor can often decide how the traffic stop will go, and Haggerty said there have been rare cases in nearby municipalities when a disrespectful or irate driver has alarmed an officer to the point of drawing their weapon.
Haggerty serves as municipal judge in a number of Bryan County towns, and said Calera enjoys a “good reputation” among the municipal courts. Calera police face a unique challenge in having the only stretch of US 69/75 passing through the center of the town with no controlled access points.
This is evident in the number of traffic accidents on the highway compared to the rest of the town. For 2012, Calera police reported 78 percent of accidents (52 out of 67) along the highway. Fifteen of the 17 injuries were on this highly-travelled stretch of road.
Another safety issue was brought before the council on Tuesday regarding the highway. New cable barriers will soon be installed in the center of the divided highway, but Hyde and city officials are calling for separate turning lanes to be constructed at a dangerous intersection on the south side of the town.
Hyde said there have been no traffic fatalities in Calera so far this year, but fears time will run out if turning lanes are not installed along the highway due to a lack of space for trucks to avoid turning motorists.
In other business, the council announced three city officer positions are up for election on April 2, 2013. The office of mayor (held by James Eaton), Councilor (held by David Westbrook) and Treasurer (held by Deborah Townsend) will be decided by voters. Filing periods for candidates will be announced soon.
The council also voted to place $5,000 in an escrow account for their bid on a property on Main Street next door to the city offices. The council also approved an invoice to pay for the new city website (www.caleraok.org) which will be available on the Internet in the coming days.