In some towns a mayor is simply a ceremonial position someone to throw out candy during the Fourth of July parade. In other villages, the mayor helps craft policies and serves as an administrator, working with departments, writing legislation and crafting a budget.
And in some towns the mayor is the law.
But a bill proposed at the Ohio Statehouse could change that. Rep. Larry Wolpert (R-Hilliard) wants to remove mayors from the benches of so-called mayor's courts in some municipalities. We agree with him. And, so does the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, who calls them a conflict of interest.
This country was founded on the basis of a separation of powers. Mayor's courts laugh in the face of that separation. For most, the courts hear only cases involving local ordinance violations and traffic laws both of which the mayor is likely to have had a direct hand in. Mayors help write the laws that a violator is accused of breaking. They also set the budget. And in many small villages money for the budget comes from, drum roll please, traffic fees.
For example, 422-yards of I-71 runs through the 117-person village of Linndale, which is near Cleveland. Police write 5,000 traffic tickets per year, which accounts for 80 percent of the village's $900,000 yearly budget.
Wolpert is right in saying that "instead of taxing themselves, they prefer to tax the people that drive through their villages." In Linndale for example, of a $90 court fee, about $60 goes back to the village.
But let's take the debate a step further, giving the village the benefit of the doubt and assuming each ticket was given to a driver whose speed was dangerous. Should it really be up to an official that benefits from the fees to decide if Mary Jane should get out of her speeding ticket for going 61 mph in a 60 mph zone? It certainly has the appearance, if not practice, of a conflict of interest.
Wolpert's bill would close 140 of the 335 mayor's courts in Ohio, banning them in villages of less than 1,600. That would close the Milan mayor's court which was reinstated in 2006 by Mayor Robert Bickley after being shut down in 1999.
The cases from closed courts would move to municipal courts, which keep a smaller percentage of fees. The remaining courts would be run by full-time, court-appointed magistrates.
Some, such as the mayor of North Royalton, argue the loss of fees would mean cuts to police forces. She also says her court gives her a "bird's-eye view" of what her police officers are doing. Apparently what her police officers are doing is writting traffic tickets. So, if budgets are cut because of this bill, one thing villages can do is have their police force spend less time writing traffic tickets.