by Ivan Foley
As financial difficulties continue to linger, the Village of Ferrelview is shutting down its municipal court and its police department is being stripped of much of its authority and manpower.
An ordinance was passed by the Village of Ferrelview Board of Trustees last week that effectively abolishes the city’s municipal court effective Oct. 1.
“That gives time for the final affairs of the court to be wound up,” Scott Campbell, city attorney for Ferrelview, said the day after a loud and contentious board meeting at the village.
As a result of the vote to shut down the court effective Oct. 1, it is expected the city judge will be dismissing every pending ticket, every pending case and every Ferrelview municipal warrant.
The move eliminates the position of court clerk for the city, which will save the financially strapped town a little money.
In addition, the board last Tuesday voted to cut the staffing of the city police department to only the position of police chief. Daniel Clayton, who has come under fire from some residents for allegedly being over aggressive in his enforcement procedures, remained as chief.
“You can only fire police chiefs for cause, according to state statute,” Campbell said.
As reported in last week’s Landmark, Clayton is being sued in civil court by an Olathe resident who claims wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.
The board last Tuesday voted to allow Clayton to keep some officers as “reserve officers,” who would work without being paid. Those officers, while working without pay, could potentially benefit by getting the necessary hours to keep their status as commissioned officers alive, Campbell said.
But at a follow-up meeting, which was a closed session held on Friday, the board voted to “adjust Clayton’s hours to up to 20 hours per week and from hourly to a salaried wage of $300 per week, effective immediately.”
Voting in favor of that action were board members Theresa Wilson, Russell Wilson and Melvin Rhodes.
Voting against was Diedre Carr.
City officials had made the statement last week that Clayton had been getting up to $700 per month in overtime pay alone.
With the elimination of the municipal court, Campbell said in his legal opinion the police force will only be able to write tickets for state violations. No municipal tickets should be written due to the fact the city court has been abolished.
“It will be up to the county prosecutor whether to prosecute those (state level charge) tickets,” Campbell said.
The city could eventually look at the option of having its municipal court cases heard by the Platte County Associate Circuit Court, a move recently undertaken by the City of Platte City. Houston Lake and Camden Point already use the associate circuit court to hear their municipal cases.
“I’m examining the process of having city court heard at the circuit court level. I don’t have all that analyzed,” Campbell said last Wednesday.
It’s not clear whether negotiations will continue, but the village in the past few weeks had entered into discussions with the Platte County Sheriff’s Department about potentially contracting with the sheriff’s department for up to 30 hours of police protection per week.
“If we contract with the sheriff’s department and swear them in as Ferrelview officers the municipal laws and violations can be enforced,” Campbell said.
The financial troubles of the village are well known. In an interview last month, Theresa Wilson, board chair, told The Landmark that the village is “in a very dire financial situation.” Wilson said a major problem is that the city collected more in municipal court revenue than allowed by state law. A state law limits the amount of money collected from traffic fines to 20 percent of the city’s general operating revenue.
Mickey Vulgamott, city treasurer, this week said: “The city financials are real. If we continue as we are for the remainder of the year, with me being as generous as I can with revenues, we are short $30,00 and that does not count the debt of $30,000 for excess court revenues or what the (state) audit might cost.”
Vulgamott has also been serving as municipal court clerk. Her pay in that role is eliminated under the action to abolish the municipal court. She will continue serving as the city treasurer.
An internal audit shows the village owes the state more than $30,000 due to an overcollection of municipal court revenue in 2016. Wilson said the city is in no position to pay the $30,000 owed, so it is expected the state will withhold the village’s sales tax revenues in an effort to recoup the money.
And the trouble doesn’t end there. This year’s municipal court collections are already running over the allowed percentage, Wilson said. “We’re at 43% right now for 2017,” well over the 20% the city is allowed to keep.
This means even if the village’s municipal court operations remained in place, every dime taken in by the village’s municipal court for the rest of 2017 would have to be sent to the state of Missouri. The village would see no financial gain from the court revenue the remainder of this year.
A citizen petition drive, led in part by Wilson prior to being elected to the board, has forced a state audit of the village government. That audit is expected to get underway soon. City officials have indicated an announcement of a start date is expected to be made by the state auditor’s office in August.
Both of last week’s meetings featured disruptions and rowdiness by members of the public. The regular meeting Tuesday night featured verbal outbursts from some attendees inside City Hall, including two former board members, Steve Carr and Linda McCaslin. McCaslin and one other member of the public were eventually escorted out of City Hall after repeated verbal outbursts.
On Friday, three members of the public showed up and were allegedly “loud and disruptive” inside City Hall. City officials called the Platte County Sheriff’s Department requesting assistance. Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen and two deputies arrived on the scene to keep the peace.
The Village of Ferrelview, located east of I-29 and I-435 in Platte County, has a population of about 450.