By Erica Solvig
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MASON - Municipal Court again was the topic of discussion and scrutiny for City Council.
Council agreed during Monday's meeting to provide court bailiffs with a used police cruiser for transporting prisoners, but voted down purchasing a new car for such use. The council also considered a request for more court staffing, but held off voting on an additional two probation officer positions until its June 23 meeting
"Every month, it seems like we're adding to the court," said Councilman Peter Beck.
Discussions about providing the court access to a vehicle started after Municipal Judge George Parker had Mason Police Chief Ron Ferrell arrested on contempt charges for not transporting a prisoner from the county jail. Charges have since been dropped against Ferrell, who said he did not have the staff to transport prisoners from cases not in Mason's jurisdiction.
The court wanted the vehicle so its bailiffs could move prisoners when law enforcement officers are not available.
Parker and Clerk of Courts Bill Scherpenberg both attended Monday's meeting and spoke before council about their need. But they got sidetracked on the topic of cooperation between the branches of government.
Council questioned the idea of purchasing a new car, especially after Councilman Tom Grossmann, a member of the court liaison committee, said the court would need a car only a few days each month when the sheriff's office was not available.
"But (the vehicle) would sit there 29 days of the month?" Beck said. "That doesn't make sense in my mind. ... I don't understand the need."
Council eventually agreed to outfit a retiring police cruiser for court use.
Council did not act on the court's request for a full-time and a part-time probation officer. Scherpenberg says the court needs the positions to prepare for new statewide sentencing practices that kick off in 2004.
The liaison committee, which helped find a solution to Ferrell's situation, wanted more time to look at the court's request.
Staffing has been a source of tension between Parker and city officials, who have repeatedly questioned the Municipal Court budget. For 2003, that budget is at $1.3 million - up from $378,000 in 2000.
"I'm not in favor of increasing that budget," Mayor John McCurley said. "I want to see some facts and figures."
Since January 2002, council has approved 11 new court positions and increased the salaries of others.
The court recently hired a Deerfield Township trustee and Middletown's mayor.
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