Carefree Mayor Schwan bucks council over possible court consolidation

By Linda Bentley | September 16, 2009

‘It’s virtually impossible to drive through town without speeding’
CAREFREE – Mayor David Schwan reported back to council on the town’s options for saving money on its municipal court operations during the Sept. 9 council meeting.

koteas and mayor schwanSchwan said he, Town Administrator Gary Neiss, Carefree Municipal Court Judge K.C. Skull and Court Administrator Adrianne Larson met with Maricopa County Superior Court Presiding Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell to discuss their options.

When Schwann suggested entering into an IGA (intergovernmental agreement) with the Northeast Regional Court at 40th Street and Union Hills Drive, he said Mundell told them she did not have any room.

Schwan said he also spoke with Cave Creek Mayor Vincent Francia and Town Manager Usama Abujbarah, who were willing to do an IGA, but Schwann stated, “We’d need to have a means of protecting ourselves,” claiming Cave Creek used a different method of assessing fines.

According to Schwan, Carefree Municipal Court processes twice as many cases as Cave Creek.

He said staff had recently been made aware of a new court program, whereas if a person owes a fine, he would be unable to register his vehicle unless it is paid.

Schwan then quoted Mundell, who told them, “All courts cost money.”

One of the suggestions Mundell offered was for the court to charge a nominal court fee, such as $25, in addition to the fine, but Schwan insisted, “There’s no way to make a good business case.”

Councilman Peter Koteas said, “When we met with Cave Creek, we promised we would do a comprehensive report.”

Koteas said people complained when the town raised water rates by 3 percent, which he said amounts to an increase of $3 to the average bill.

On the other hand, he said people have no idea they are subsidizing the court by about five percent and 95 percent of the defendants are from out of town.

“It’s virtually impossible to drive through town without speeding,” said Koteas, “That’s not a positive impact on our town.”

Koteas said it was council’s obligation to provide the citizens of Carefree with the “highest quality of service at the lowest cost” in every area, including their court.

He said, “We got an open-arm welcome in Cave Creek. In Carefree, we couldn’t get any information,” citing there was “all this protectionism.”

Koteas said there is potential for six-figure savings to both towns through consolidation and told the mayor, “What you provided was not a comprehensive review.”

Councilman Doug Stavoe said the court is the town’s third highest expenditure after fire protection at $1.3 million and their contract with MCSO for $450,000 to provide two officers to write traffic tickets.

“They bring some money in, but it doesn’t cover the cost,” said Stavoe, who stated it also has the effect of being “a detriment to the community when they pull over 50 people a day … some get tickets, some get warnings, some don’t …”

He said it reflects poorly “if you’re going to pull over and arrest everyone who comes into our town. That’s why I asked to have a financial review,” citing there was no financial information in Schwan’s report.

Referring to the court employees Schwan chose to help with his review, Stavoe asked, “How can you have an unbiased review with people whose jobs may be at stake?” adding, “There’s nothing financial about this report.”

Vice Mayor Glenn Miller stated, “You said 50 tickets a day. It’s not,” claiming it was 10 tickets a day on average.”

Stavoe interrupted, “I didn’t say 50 tickets per day.”

Miller responded, “You had your turn, I’m talking,” and continued to correct what Stavoe didn’t say.

Stavoe insisted he didn’t say 50 tickets per day and requested Town Clerk Betsy Wise read back what he did say.

Wise read back from her notes, “… they pull over 50 people a day, some get tickets, some get warnings, some don’t …”

Schwan stated he and Koteas have different philosophical ideas as to who the court serves, and stated Koteas believes the court is there to provide service to the 95 percent of the defendants who are from out of town, while he believes the court is providing a service to the citizens of Carefree, citing as an example, “each time we take a drunk driver off the road …”

Koteas said he never said that and repeated his earlier statement, which was “provide the citizens of Carefree with the highest quality of service at the lowest cost.”

Schwan concluded, “If anyone would like to pursue this, they can work with me. Yes, my report lacks detail. It was the best summary I could come up with in the shortest time. But, we’re going to use data from the office of the courts.”

During public comment, John Traynor said, “I will tell you the numbers for this court are high,” and stated Cave Creek issued 1,700 citations, while Carefree issued 4,000.

Traynor, who lives on Cave Creek Road said almost every day when he comes home there are two deputies parked at the foot of his driveway, indicating they were laying in wait as a speed trap.

Miller said he remembered when Traynor complained three years ago about vehicles speeding in front of his house.

“The vice mayor is putting words in my mouth that never left my mouth,” said Traynor, angrily, adding, “I’d be very willing to work on this.”

doug stavoe and susan vanikCouncilwoman Susan Vanik and Koteas, who said they got along well and enjoyed working with one another, provided a brief marketing committee update.

Vanik said plans were underway to honor veterans on Nov. 11 (Veterans Day) with a big band from 2 to 5 p.m. She’s also been working with Cave Creek Unified School District history teacher Barbara Hatch, who has been involved in a project that entails interviewing veterans.

She also said Koteas was able to obtain a $10,000 contribution to help pay for the event.

Top photo: Councilman Peter Koteas (l) said there was a potential for six-figure savings to both Carefree and Cave Creek by consolidating their court and told Mayor David Schwan what he provided council was “not a comprehensive review” of the town’s court options.
Lower photo: Councilman Doug Stavoe and Councilwoman Susan Vanik.

Photos by Linda Bentley