The normally sedate Village of Four Seasons Board of Trustees erupted into a shouting match Wednesday night over the future of the Village's Municipal Court.

The normally sedate Village of Four Seasons Board of Trustees erupted into a shouting match Wednesday night over the future of the Village's Municipal Court.

Ultimately, Trustees Chairman Arnold Sandbothe cast a tie-breaking vote to disband the Municipal Court based on financial considerations, thus ending 20 years of court service to Village residents. Within six months, court cases normally handled at Village Hall will be heard in Camden County Associate Circuit Court in Camdenton.

The discussion and vote did not come without considerable consternation as trustees have wrestled with legislation passed a year ago that has impacted small municipal courts across the state.

SB 5 and later SB 572 -- both outgrowths of issues arising from problems in Ferguson, Mo. -- placed constraints on municipal courts that reduced income and increased costs. The city of Laurie recently disbanded its municipal court and Linn Creek and others in the area are seriously considering doing the same.

Halfway through the fiscal year, Village officials say the Municipal Court is between $14,000-$20,000 in the red. While the exact amount is in dispute, it appears the Village's budget will continue to be negatively impacted by the changes in the law. At a time when the Village is asking employees to reduce hours and is selling surplus equipment, three of the Village Trustees believe continuing with the Municipal Court is not in the best interests of Village residents.

Voting to disband the court were Trustees Jim Holcomb and Dave Purdue, with Trustees Carolyn Loraine and Ranita Jones voting to keep the court open through the end of the fiscal year to monitor expenses and income before making a decision. Sandbothe voted to close the court, resulting in a 3-2 vote to disband. 

Disputes

A disagreement among Trustees regarding the wording of a motion made during an Aug. 16 budget strategy meeting set the tone for the balance of the meeting.

Trustee Jim Holcomb said the motion as recorded in the Aug. 16 minutes was not what he actually said, insisting that one word be added. Village Clerk Janice Phegley and Trustee Carolyn Loraine disagreed, noting they had carefully written the motion as Holcomb had said and even repeated it back before it was approved.

Holcomb -- a former judge -- also challenged how the Village Clerk had advertised for the sale of personal property, saying she had failed to follow municipal requirements for the sale of surplus property.

The minutes were eventually changed at Holcomb's request, but that led to Phegley leaving the meeting in protest, saying she was tired of the abuse and that what the trustees were doing was unlawful. Trustees appointed Holcomb to act as temporary recording secretary, but Phegley returned after several minutes to finish out the meeting.

The vote to change the motion was approved 3-2, with Trustees Sandbothe, Holcomb and Purdue voting in favor and Trustees Loraine and Jones voting against.

As the trustees moved into budget discussions regarding the Municipal Court, Sandbothe said that at one point during the year Village officials were hopeful the impact of Senate Bills 5 and 572 would be less than initially anticipated. But most recent information, he said, indicates the Village is facing a deficit in the Municipal Court budget of more than $20,000. That led to detailed discussions on how to handle the issue.

At that point, Municipal Court Judge Tom Loraine stopped the discussion and asked if could offer a correction to what Sandbothe had said. Loraine took exception with the Village's numbers and said that, in fact, there wasn't a problem and that by year's end the deficit would be far less than Sandbothe's projections.

He said it was learned recently that for 10 years the Village had been crediting the salary of the prosecuting attorney to the wrong fund and if that budgetary change was made the Municipal Court financial picture would change significantly to the better. Rather than showing those costs as a Municipal Court expense, it should be credited to the same fund from which the Camden County Sheriff's Department is paid for enforcement in the Village and on Horseshoe Bend.

"You apparently didn't hear what I said," Sandbothe said in a moment of frustration in explaining his argument that the court is facing a significant deficit. "I said the prosecuting attorney's cost ..."

"Sir, sir, sir, is this a meeting or is this a dictatorship. Do you want to argue with me or do you want me out of here?" Loraine retorted. "Would you like me outta here?"

"No," Sandbothe said, "Not at all. I'm correcting some numbers. It's an open meeting and I want you to stay."

Loraine continued, saying the Village was doing its calculations improperly. Sandbothe countered, reiterating that from his perspective that even if the prosecuting attorney's costs is removed from the picture the Village was still facing a $20,000 deficit in that fund.

For 47 minutes, the discussion ensued between Sandbothe and Lorine, with occasional input from other trustees.

In the end, the Trustees voted to make the clerical change to the budget as directed by the Office of Court Administrators in Jefferson City. And voted to disband the Village's Municipal Court.

Final comments

Before Chairman Sandbothe called for a vote on disbanding the local court, he offered this comment:

"This is a gigantic change being proposed for village. The history has been that the court has been here and operated 20 years and now because of changes that came about nearly two hears ago of how courts are operated, we find ourselves in the situation where we have a fiduciary responsibility as trustees to use the resources we have to the best advantage of residents and people who pay sales tax in The Village," he said.

"I'd remind people when they vote one way or the other, I would hope they're voting in the best interests of what's here for the community, and if there are any personal vendettas I hope you put them aside and cast your vote in what I would term as the best use of resources we're trusted with."

That led Trustee Loraine to say:

"I think having a Municipal Court is extremely advantageous to our community. I think we've not given it enough time since we found new information, and we haven't been given adequate time to work through some of the issues to see where we are," she offered.

"It's not a personal vendetta. I've been working with government for a long time and I just feel as though it's an important part for citizens of our community. Whether I'm in the minority or not, I agree we have to be fiduciarily responsible to our citizens, but I also think it's a service we've provided and I think there are means that can be adjusted, to tweak, to see if it's more viable."