Council continues to question overtime expenses

City officials are looking into how Cairo Municipal Court is being operated following a visit to court by a city councilman subpoenaed to appear in court.
With the city police department being consistently over budget for overtime expenses, Cairo City Councilman Kermit Gilliard questioned why eight officers were in Municipal Court at 8 a.m. when Judge Josh Bell does not routinely convene court until 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m.
“There were eight officers just sitting there waiting for court to begin. I don’t think we need to pay eight officers to wait on the judge until he gets there. Certainly, two officers would be sufficient to check for weapons and cell phones,” Gilliard said.
Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas agreed and said, “The police don’t need to sit there for two hours waiting on the judge. With cell phones and everything else they could be called to come up when they need to be there.”
Assistant City Clerk Sandra Roberts explained that the judge does not arrive before 9:30 a.m. in order to give the clerk and her assistants time to call roll and take pleas.
“We don’t have a solicitor, so we have to do it. It takes about an hour to an hour-and-a-half and sometimes we are actually rushed,” Ms. Roberts said.
City Attorney Thomas L. Lehman pointed out the city clerk is the person who signs the subpoenas, so she would have the power to set the time when police officers need to appear in court.
“She can put whatever time she wants,” Lehman said.
Councilman Gilliard said his subpoena called for him to report at 8 a.m., but he said he had been told court would not begin until 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m. “I went on up there, because that was what the subpoena said I was to do,” Gilliard added.
“The long and short is you don’t need an officer there until you have the trial. If the trials begin at 9:30 a.m., they don’t need them until 9:30 a.m. Otherwise, you are paying them to socialize while anticipating the start of the trial,” City Attorney Lehman said.
Lehman also said there is no reason to have an officer there if the defendant pleads guilty.
The most recent overtime report for the city police department indicates 142 hours of overtime was paid to officers between Nov. 3 and Dec. 1 to appear in court.
“The chief may have another explanation, but this was my personal observation from having been in court. I don’t want to tell him how to run his department, but I think someone needs to rethink how the court is being operated,” Gilliard said.
Ms. Roberts said that officers are required to do security checks on those entering, and the judge requests one officer in the courtroom for security during court proceedings.
“I don’t have a problem with that, but eight is overkill,” Councilman Douglas said.
Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton said that he would discuss the council’s concerns with Police Chief Keith Sandefur and look into how overtime expenses related to court appearances can be reduced.
“Hopefully, we can make adjustments in the future,” Addleton said.
With seven months remaining in the fiscal year, the city police department has already consumed nearly 60 percent of its overtime budget for 2014-2015.

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