Mayor’s court bill generates discussion
By Kathleen Folkerth
DOWNTOWN AKRON — An effort is under way to put an end to mayor’s courts in the state of Ohio and change to a system of community courts.
Ohio House Bill (HB) 154 was introduced in April and is in the House Judicial Committee. Summit County Council President Nick Kostandaras (D-District 1) recently introduced legislation that states Council’s opposition to the bill and it was discussed during the Personnel Committee meeting Aug. 13.
“This is an issue that should concern us a great deal,” Kostandaras said.
According to the Ohio Supreme Court, 335 municipal corporations in 69 of Ohio’s 88 counties were operating mayor’s courts in 2006. In Summit County, mayor’s courts are used in Fairlawn, Norton, Peninsula Village, Richfield Village, Boston Heights, Macedonia and Northfield. Ohio law currently allows mayors of municipal corporations of more than 100 people that have no municipal court to conduct a mayor’s court. The courts allow mayors or appointed magistrates to hear cases regarding traffic violations and sometimes zoning code issues.
HB 154, sponsored by State Rep.
Larry Wolpert (R-District 23), would incorporate mayor’s
courts into the judicial system under the authority
of the Ohio Supreme Court.
Communities with more than 1,600 residents would then
have a community court, while those with populations
of less than 1,600 would have no court.
Proponents of the change, such
as Ohio Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, say mayor’s
courts have been declared unconstitutional by federal
courts. Some cite problems with small towns such as
Linndale, located along Interstate 71, which are considered
“speed traps” for the intensity with which
they ticket motorists traveling through.
But local mayors say the courts
serve an important function and should be retained.
“Other mayor’s courts
have been abusing the system,
but that’s not an issue Fairlawn has,” said
Fairlawn Mayor Bill Roth in a telephone interview.
He said the city makes a minimal
amount of money from its mayor’s court. Some of
the money is paid to the state while a portion of what
the city keeps goes to fund its DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance
Roth said mayor’s courts
are one way for smaller communities to deal with problems,
such as speeding, in their own jurisdictions.
“It’s quicker and
it’s local,” he said.
If the effort to change the mayor’s
court system is successful, Roth said it’s just
one more way the state is
taking away municipalities’ powers.
“The state legislature
is really in the path of forever chipping away at home
rule,” he said. “It’s a never-ending
process. This is another example of it.”
During the Council discussion,
Kostandaras said some communities rely on money from
traffic tickets and fines.
“Look at the municipalities
of Peninsula or Boston Heights,” he said. “This
would literally wipe out their operating income.”
The committee recommended adoption
of the legislation opposing the state changes.
In other business, the Committee-of-the-Whole
recommended Council adopt
an ordinance allowing an increase in the county’s
bed tax. The additional money will be earmarked for
improvements to the John S. Knight Center.
Members Tim Crawford (D-District
7) and Dan Congrove (D-District 6) were absent.
If approved at the Aug. 20 meeting,
the tax will be raised 1 percent, which would make the
total tax in Summit County on hotel and motel rooms
14.75 percent. That is still less than comparable cities
in Ohio, proponents said.
The additional tax has been proposed
by the Akron-Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau (ASCVB),
the private, not- for-profit
organization that promotes Akron and Summit County as
a location for meetings and conventions. The bureau
is supported through hotel taxes. The entity also operates
the John S. Knight Center, the downtown convention center
that opened in 1994.
According to Gregg Mervis, vice
president of the ASCVB, the money will help the center
“Not only do we have to
look good, we have to stay technologically on the cutting
edge,” Morrison told the committee.
There are some basic needs that
the facility needs to address soon, he added.
“We need a boiler,”
he said. “It’s
$300,000. If we don’t get a boiler we can’t
air condition the building.”
The tax, if adopted, would be
in effect for 10 years. Kostandaras raised the idea
of a 5-year period instead, but Mervis said he didn’t
agree with that.
“That would be a Band-Aid,”
he said. “We would like you to give us 10 years
to make things work.”
Summit County Council is scheduled
to meet Aug. 20 at 5:30 p.m. for caucus and 6 p.m. for
the regular meeting in Council Chambers on the seventh
floor of the Ohio Building, 175 S. Main St.