By Jon A. Brake
Riley County Attorney William (Bill) Kennedy has to be asking "Why Now?" Kennedy has been asking the City of Manhattan to take over the City Misdemeanor cases for more than ten years. The City refused.
The City of Manhattan has passed resolutions which state that it is unlawful to steal, it is unlawful to damage other people's property, ect. When Kennedy first started any theft over $50 was handled by his office. Under fifty dollars was taken to the City Municipal Court. The State of Kansas raised the amount to $150 and then $500. But the City of Manhattan did not change with the times. They would only prosecute cases under $150. All other cases went to the County. It has been that way for the past eight years.
Kennedy told the Manhattan City Commission Tuesday night that if the City could take over prosecution of these cases it would relieve his case load and his office could spend more time on the bigger cases.
But the question is still "Why Now?" Could it be that this is the only way the City could get a larger and more expensive Municipal Court building? Four weeks ago the new City Commission turned down a request to add on to the old Riley County Police Department when it is turned into a court building.
Brent Bowman and Associates were working on plans for remodeling the building when the City staff stopped them two weeks ago and now the City is wanting to add the misdemeanor cases. But, to do that, they would need a larger building. Larger cost too, going form $300,000 to more than $400,000.
Here is a memo given to the Commission:
City Administration has previously reported that the City’s lease for Municipal Court facilities at Colony Square has been terminated. In addition, City Administration reported that the facilities at Colony Square were inadequate to handle the current caseload of the Court. In response to that report, on July 17, 2001, the Commission has previously authorized a contract with Brent Bowman and Associates to proceed with the design and bidding for the renovation of the old administration building at 600 Colorado. The proposed renovation had a budget limitation of $300,000.
Since the July 17, 2001, meeting, several things have occurred. First, Municipal Court has actually been relocated from its previous facilities in Colony Square to other, temporary, facilities in the same building. The temporary facilities seem to be working satisfactorily; however, the owners of Colony Square understand that the Court will only be located there until permanent facilities are available elsewhere. Second, City Administration has learned that there is asbestos in the ceiling of the old administration building that will have to be removed prior to any renovation of that facility. The cost of this removal is approximately $40,000, and is over and above the funds presently budgeted for this project. Third, and perhaps most significantly, the Riley County Attorney, in conjunction with the Director of the Riley County Police Department, has approached the City Manager and the City Attorney with a request that the City undertake the prosecution of certain specified misdemeanors that would greatly expand the caseload at Municipal Court. The present plan for the renovation of 600 Colorado is insufficient to address the caseload that would be imposed upon the Court if the Riley County Attorney’s request were accommodated.
Brent Bowman and Associates have nearly completed a design for the renovation of 600 Colorado for Municipal Court. That design was almost ready for construction bids to be solicited. Before the design could actually be finalized, and bids requested, Mr. Kennedy requested that the City consider undertaking the prosecution of certain misdemeanors in Municipal Court. Because the current design would be inadequate to allow such an expansion of the caseload, City Administration directed Mr. Bowman to cease his work on the original design and to provide the City with preliminary concepts as to a design that would accommodate such an expansion. In the original presentation of preliminary proposals for the renovation of 600 Colorado, the City Commission was provided with two phases. The first phase was intended to provide a facility that could address the current needs for Municipal Court. The second phase was intended to address future needs. The second phase included additional office space and also a second courtroom. Mr. Bowman has prepared preliminary drawings of the renovations needed to address the expansion envisioned by the current request. All parties seem to agree that a second courtroom is probably not needed in the foreseeable future, even with the expected increase; however, there is a considerable need for additional office space. The original design prepared by Mr. Bowman and the present preliminary concept are both attached to this memo.
The Riley County Attorney’s request involves the City undertaking the prosecution of additional misdemeanors involving theft, criminal damage to property, possession of marijuana, and insufficient funds checks. Both the Riley County Attorney and the Director of the Riley County Police Department believe that the City’s handling of these cases will allow the Riley County Attorney’s Office to better address the more serious criminal offenses that occur within the City and County. They believe that the present resources of the Riley County Attorney are stretched too thin, if they are required to address these misdemeanors. When fines and court costs are imposed in Riley County District Court upon persons convicted of these offenses, that revenue goes to the State of Kansas, and is not available to fund the Riley County Attorney’s efforts. On the other hand, if those cases were prosecuted in Municipal Court, the fines and costs would come to the City’s general fund, and would be available to assist in the funding of the Municipal Court and prosecution.
The City already prosecutes cases of theft where the value of the items stolen is less than $150. Likewise, the City currently prosecutes damage cases where the damage is less than $150. The State defines misdemeanors in these types of cases as having a value of less than $500. Therefore, Mr. Kennedy’s request would ask us to modify our ordinance to increase the limit to $500. The addition of these theft and damage cases is probably not going to cause an extremely significant impact. However, the addition of check cases and marijuana cases will be extremely significant. Mr. Kennedy has told us he estimates that he prosecutes approximately 200 DUI’s a year, that occur in the City, simply because they also involve the possession of marijuana. Therefore, if we undertake the prosecution of marijuana cases, we will not only increase our caseload to deal with those, we will add an additional 200 DUIs. That increases our DUI’s alone by about 50%. Those types of cases take a lot of court, clerical, and probation time and effort. Mr. Kennedy has informed us he handles about 700 bad check cases a year. These cases require an intensive clerical effort to not only address the case itself, but the recovery of, and accounting for, funds for the victim.
City Administration has requested that Mr. Kennedy provide statistical data related to the prosecution of the types of cases he is asking the City to address. That data will assist City Administration in determining the impact such an undertaking would have on the City. That data would also assist City Administration in evaluating the cost and the revenue that such an undertaking would generate. To date, we have not received such data, but we are hopeful it will be available prior to the meeting on September 11, 2001. Our initial evaluation of the request would suggest that such an undertaking will require the City to hire at least one additional clerical person and one additional probation officer. In addition, the caseload will require a full-time judge, or two half-time judges, as opposed to the half-time situation that exists currently. Finally, it will probably require an additional part-time prosecutor. All of this obviously requires an immediate expansion of the proposed facility in order to accommodate this increase in caseload. Mr. Bowman will be available at the meeting to discuss the costs of this expansion. If the expansion is undertaken, it will be necessary for the City to amend its contract with Mr. Bowman to expand its scope and authorize him to finalize designs accordingly.
Presently, Municipal Court hears cases on Tuesdays and Thursdays. As was previously reported, the first two hours of these days is where a large number of people appear, and where the traffic impact on the neighborhood would be the greatest. If these additional cases are going to be handled by Municipal Court, the court days would be expanded to at least 4, and perhaps 5, days a week. We would therefore anticipate that the amount of traffic, during peak times, would not increase, but would be spread out over a larger number of days.
If the City undertakes to accommodate Mr. Kennedy’s request, it will
be necessary to adopt, and/or amend, ordinances to address these offenses.
In addition, there may be a need to amend the 2002 Budget to accommodate
the additional revenues and expenses that are anticipated from this increased
function. The amendment could occur during the 2003 Budget adoption process.