| By Jason C. Mattox
After meeting for more than an hour Tuesday, the Batesville Mayor and Board of Aldermen were still stalled in their efforts to find a way to collect more of the $800,000 in past due fines owed the city.
City leaders suggested that Mayor Jerry Autrey and city attorney Colmon Mitchell meet with municipal judge Bill McKenzie and court clerk Renee Hubbard to offer some of the city’s recommendations.
Aldermen gathered to discuss the possibility of accepting partial payment of court fines rather than risk getting none of the fine.
"There is an attorney general’s opinion that allows the partial payment of fines," Mitchell said. "If they don’t pay the balance of the fine, you would find them in contempt of court."
Mitchell said one thing that could be done would be to take a partial payment and set up a date when the final installment would be due.
Hubbard said McKenzie had informed her he was against accepting partial payments.
"His feeling is that he is trying to teach criminals a sense of responsibility," she said. "He will tell them they have 30 days or however long and suggest they go to a finance company or sell their car or make other arrangements to get the fine paid.
"He just doesn’t want to do it," she insisted.
Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow said repeat offenders should be put in jail and not just threatened with a suspended sentence.
"The people are going to talk," he said. "You won’t have to lock up but about 10. When people hear we are throwing them in jail, they will start paying their fines."
Mitchell said the best the board could do was offer their suggestions to the judge.
"You can go to him and ask for his cooperation," he said. "After that it will be up to him, but it is not a good idea to try to micro-manage the court."
Hubbard explained that after sentencing in court, the guilty party has 30 days to pay. If the fine is not paid after that 30 days, a notice is sent out giving them 10 days. After that, a final notice is mailed out.
"When it gets to that point we need to take them to jail and lock them up," Morrow said.
Lt. Col. Tony Jones said one problem with that is the jail’s capacity.
"They are at maximum capacity right now," he said. "They aren’t even taking people who are not felony cases."
Mitchell explained that the city is allowed to add on the costs of jail time ($20 per day in Panola County Jail) to the previous fines.
"The problem is, how are you going to get them to pay that when they wouldn’t pay the original fine?" Jones asked.
Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders said she supports accepting partial payments.
"I respect the judge, and agree that we don’t need to tell him how to run his courtroom, but there has to be a way of getting this done," she said.
No formal action was taken on the matter.