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11/05/2008

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Never Boring in the DK

Vernon Jones appointed TeBo, Terrell Bolton, as DeKalb’s Chief of Police, even though he wasn’t in the top 5 of the “blue ribbon” selection committee. TeBo sure loves him some comp time. And he sure likes to visit Texas (FYI: His family still lives there).

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Millions of revenue uncollected??

http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/printedition/2008/12/21/recorders.html

‘Chaos’ cited in DeKalb’s traffic court
By Cameron McWhirter
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, December 21, 2008

The bosses at DeKalb County’s main traffic court have done such a poor job that the office is in “organized chaos,” failing to collect tens of million of dollars and losing track of millions it does take in, according to a new consultants’ report obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Recorders Court staff kept such poor records and were so uncooperative the consultants said they could only estimate how much money could be realized if problems were fixed: at least $60 million in the next six years.

Asked about the court’s staff, DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones said they “are all incompetent and should all be fired.”

Hired in March by the County Commission, consultants Ken Harris and B.J. Van Gundy distributed their report to top county officials last week. They would not comment for this story.

The consultants wrote that the staff lacked proper training and no one appears to be watching the court’s finances.

Every day the court is open, workers take in thousands of dollars as people pay speeding tickets and other citations. As much as $150,000 a week is paid in cash, cash bonds or surety bonds. But consultants said “indications are that less than 40 percent of those cash and surety bonds … are entered and tracked in the court’s [computer] system.”

The consultants did not indicate where the rest of the money went.

The consultants said that if the system was fixed, the court could bring in an additional $40 million over the next six years, plus at least an additional $20 million in collecting on unresolved citations.

“The court’s current operations can best be described as ‘organized chaos,’ where evaluation and assessment of operational responsibility, accountability and traceability of court and staff actions is nearly impossible,” the consultants stated.

Without mentioning her by name, the 31-page report blasts DeKalb County Recorders Court Chief Judge R. Joy Walker for chronic mismanagement of one of the busiest traffic courts in the state. The consultants argue that “the current management [has] allowed its operations to erode.”

Walker did not return calls seeking comment for this story. Previously, she told the AJC that many citations listed as unresolved have in fact been paid, but the computer information is inaccurate. “I am not trying to negate the problem,” she said then. “There is a systems problem.”

The AJC reported last month that the court had lost track of hundreds of thousands of citations, costing the county and state tens of millions in uncollected fines. The consultants’ report comes amid a criminal investigation into allegations of ticket fixing by court staff, as well as the leadership transition from Jones to recently elected CEO Burrell Ellis. And it comes as Ellis has just announced a $40 million shortfall for the county’s 2009 budget. The court’s revenue goes into the county’s general fund.

Jones appointed Walker to the chief judge position in 2002. The CEO and the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, on which Ellis has served since 2001, approve the court’s budget and oversee its operations.

After the AJC story, Jones declared, “I’m going to fix this before I leave office.”

He said he told Walker and her staff last month that Troy Thompson, whom he appointed this year as the court’s administrator, is now in charge of its operations instead of the judge. He voiced strong support for Thompson. “Troy is cleaning up that mess,” Jones said.

Jones, who leaves office at the end of the month, said he had not been given a copy of the report. He admitted the court has serious problems, but he suggested that the consultants might be exaggerating because they want another contract.

Kevin Ross, who heads Ellis’ transition team, did not return calls seeking comment last week.

Thompson said he had not read the entire report but he supports most of its findings. Still, Thompson said he is “100 percent confident” the court administration can be fixed, adding that the consultants’ invective was meant “to inflame the [county] board, the CEO and anyone else to action.” He also said the court, despite its problems, has brought in more revenue than expected this year.

The consultants called for a review of the court’s operations, a forensic audit of its finances and a review board to oversee how it is run. They called for immediate fixes of the court’s computer problems and the installation of a paperless citation system for DeKalb police, so tickets can be sent to court electronically instead of entered by hand. The paper-file issues have been compounded by computer system problems. Since 2006, the court’s systems haven’t been communicating, causing confusion with records, payments and driver histories.

Earlier this year, DeKalb commissioners hired the consultants to investigate problems at the court, as county police launched a criminal probe of an alleged ticket-fixing scandal at the court that led to charges against five court employees and six others. The court administrator, Terry Phillips, was reassigned to the county’s police services department, and Thompson was brought on. Phillips could not be reached for comment. A DeKalb police spokesman would not comment on the status of the ongoing investigation.

The Recorders Court handles citations written by DeKalb police, sheriff’s deputies and smaller departments, including MARTA police. It handles about 200,000 citations a year.

‘ORGANIZED CHAOS’

The consultants found that DeKalb Recorders Court:
> isn’t complying with state law in providing data on citations and convictions to the state’s driver history database. It hasn’t done so since mid-2006. This affects what police across the state know about drivers when they get pulled over. It also means thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people are not paying accurate insurance rates.
>has done little about tens of thousands of people who failed to appear on their court date.
>lacks standards and quality control checks for its data and record keeping.
>isn’t keeping track of millions of dollars in probation payments.
>doesn’t manage its courtrooms well. Staff mistakes in figuring out when courtrooms could be used had led to a backlog of arraignments on about 15,000 cases.
>has a “dismal” closure rate.
> on the percent of citations that are resolved, the closure rate was only 57 percent, compared with similar traffic courts in Gwinnett County, which was 90 percent.

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mistakes in figuring out when courtrooms could be used had led to a backlog of arraignments on about 15,000 cases.

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