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Council of Governments Recommends Panel to Study Municipal Court System

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Council of Governments Recommends Panel to Study Municipal Court System

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) today, without dissent, endorsed creation of a study panel to review, on its behalf, the current structure and operations of the municipal court system, to identify potential ways to sustain and improve the efficiency of operations and quality of justice provided by the town and village courts.  Tompkins County government is a member of TCCOG.

The action comes at the recommendation of TCCOG’s Shared Services Committee, which is charged with considering areas where structural changes may result in greater efficiency and effectiveness. 

Referring to a briefing memo prepared for TCCOG, Tompkins County Administrator Joe Mareane reported that, from the exploratory review of the municipal court system he conducted on behalf of the committee, it is not clear that an alternate model that would be less expensive than the current justice court system.   However, he does believe that it may be time to evaluate whether the more than $800,000 Tompkins County municipalities currently spend on the courts could support a different model that would result in an improved level of service.  The aim:  to investigate potential alternative models that could improve the consistent quality of service without increasing local costs.

Administrator Mareane noted that the court system review should not be included as part of the current effort to identify high-yield, money-saving ventures for submission in the Governor’s 2015 Government Efficiency Plan.

Mr. Mareane recommends appointment of a group of ten or so knowledgeable, experienced, and community-minded individuals to engage in a careful, thoughtful discussion to identify and analyze alternative models, without regard to limitations imposed by existing State law. The advisory committee would return within 6-12 months with a cost analysis and recommendations, which may or may not include a departure from the current justice court system.

TCCOG’s action calls upon its Shared Services Committee to identify potential panel members and report its recommendations to the TCCOG Board for its approval.

The Council today also joined the County Legislature and several other municipal legislative bodies in recognizing freedom from domestic violence as a human right, further discussion regarding action plans anticipated at future meetings. 

Members also elected officers for 2015—Enfield Town Supervisor Ann Ryder continuing as Co-Chair, with Ithaca City Alderperson J.R. Clairborne advancing from Vice Chair to the other Co-Chair position, and Caroline Town Council member Irene Weiser succeeding him as Vice Chair for the year ahead.