Last year, Kim Hoover made his case to officials in Macedonia, Peninsula, Boston Heights and Northfield. The Stow Municipal Court judge advised the communities to look closely at the profitability of their mayor’s courts, convinced that the finances no longer made sense.
The judge’s argument turned on efficiencies in the Stow Municipal Court, which serves northern Summit County. The court has operated so efficiently that it returns 100 percent of fines collected to local communities. Start sending their cases to Stow, the judge reasoned, and the communities would eliminate their overhead costs.
Doug Mayer did the right thing. The Peninsula mayor looked at the numbers, met with Hoover and decided to close down his mayor’s court, which has handled misdemeanors and traffic cases for 20 years. In 2012, the court generated a profit of $4,000. Hoover calculated that by sending its cases to Stow, the village would have cleared from $25,000 to $28,000 instead.
Don Kuchta, the Macedonia mayor, remains convinced his court is a convenience for citizens, a deterrent to crime and a financial boon to the city. Boston Heights and Northfield have not yet responded to Hoover’s letter.
Convenience no longer seems a factor in the northern part of the county. Macedonia, for example, is just minutes away from the Stow court. A real concern is that mayor’s courts operate with built-in conflicts of interest. Not only does the mayor control of how revenue is spent, he or she appoints court officials, an invitation to patronage. The arrangement also risks providing favorable treatment for the well-connected.
In its past session, the state legislature shut down mayor’s courts in eight tiny speed traps, among them Linndale, all with fewer than 200 people. In Linndale, fines from arrests on I-71 made up an outrageous 80 percent of the budget. Unfortunately, lawmakers balked at going further.
That makes Hoover’s local initiative all the more important. Officials in Macedonia, Boston Heights and Northfield should look more closely at how their courts operate, and not just from a financial perspective. Outside of remote, sparsely populated rural areas of Ohio, mayor’s courts long have outlived their purpose.