February 20, 2013 Edition

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WR Council conflicted over
hazardous driving ordinance

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

Walnut Ridge City Councilmen began the process of passing a hazardous driving city ordinance and discussed the need for a new garbage truck for the city at their regular meeting on Feb. 12.

Mayor Don House told the council that he has been asked by various citizens and officials over the past year why the city doesn't have a hazardous driving ordinance.

"It is my understanding that such an ordinance exists in most municipalities in the county, including one in Hoxie that has been in place for several years. The city of Pocahontas has had one in effect since 1984, and it is used frequently," House said. "Such an ordinance would give us options to make things easier on people with good driving records. It would allow the city to fine people without the violation going on their driving record in Little Rock. This kind of ticket would get people's attention before they get a ticket under state statute that would cost them more and increase the price of their car insurance."

City Attorney Adam Weeks said the ordinance would be an additional tool for the city's officers, a softer tool to try to correct bad driving behavior among the town's citizens.

"The ordinance is not for generating revenue for the city," Weeks said. "The fines aren't revenue, they are punishment for driving hazardously or inattentively."

However, fines collected from city ordinance tickets would go to the city, not the state.

The ordinance presented to the council is to prohibit hazardous driving within the city limits and establish a fine. It defines hazardous driving as driving any type of motor vehicle in such a manner as to indicate a disregard for persons, property, traffic controls and conditions then present. It includes starting or stopping a vehicle in such a manner that the tires of the vehicle lose traction; swerving from side to side, slide or otherwise deviate from a normal course of direction of travel; accelerating a vehicle unnecessarily so as to cause it to spin or produce obnoxious noise and/or skidding or sliding; failing to obey posted stop signs, traffic control or traffic signals; and failing to obey posted speed limits.

Any person found guilty of hazardous driving as defined in the ordinance shall be fined no less that $75.00 nor more than $250 and shall also pay court cost of $75.00.

Police Chief Richy Thatcher told the council that the city fines are lower than those charged by the state and would save citizens money if they receive a fine.

"It's cheaper to have a hazardous driving ticket under a city ordinance than a reckless driving ticket the other way," Thatcher said.

Alderman Michael "Button" Wallin asked that the council table voting on the ordinance until they could get input from other towns who already have one in effect, and hopefully can shed more light on the subject.

"This is not enough information for me to be qualified to vote on this right now," Wallin said. "We need to know how it works in other places and if there is anything about the ordinances in other cities they would change now that they have had theirs in place for awhile. If we do adopt the ordinance, let's make sure we get it right. Let's make sure we are really doing something to help people and not add to habitual hazardous driving by allowing people to pay smaller fines with no other repercussions. Let's table it and then have a special meeting."

Several members of the council felt the ordinance left too much authority to city officers' discretion, and there would be no way to keep track of someone who received numerous tickets.

"If we're going to trust our police department to protect us, we can trust them with this ordinance," said Alderman Rob Combs, chairman of the city's police committee. "A ticket under this ordinance would be a first offense warning to say 'stop doing this' to offending drivers."

Wallin said, "I'm not going to vote for something I don't understand, and I haven't had time to think about."

Alderman Boyce Dickson made a motion to pass the ordinance, and Alderman Wendell Jones, who serves on the city's Police Committee, seconded the motion.

Alderman Jones, Combs, Dickson, and Don Winrey voted in favor of the ordinance on first reading, with Anthony Pinkston, Jeff Taylor, Ed Lawson and Wallin voting against it, creating a tie vote. Mayor House voted to accept the ordinance, breaking the tie.

"As mayor I felt it was a reasonable ordinance and therefore voted for it," House said. "I recommended that the emergency clause not be incorporated into the ordinance, which will prevent the ordinance gožing into effect for 90 days.

"That will give the council time to talk with officials and officers in other towns before we vote on the ordinance again."

Following the meeting, Alderman Wallin told The TD that he would like to commend the Downtown Walnut Ridge organization on the recent award they won, as well as their nomination for another.

"I would like to recognize them and thank them for all the work they do," Wallin said. "We would all like to see our downtown area thriving and businesses locating there again. Lorra Whitmire and this entire group have worked hard and continue to work to try and achieve that goal, and I just want them to know how much they are appreciated."

In other business, the council:

  • discussed the need for a new sanitation truck and heard from representatives from Tri-State Truck Company of Jonesboro and River City Hydraulics of Sherwood about prices and types of trucks. The council took no action but agreed to have the sanitation department put together more information for them and call a special meeting to decide how to proceed. The city currently has one sanitation truck that is operational, but it is older and not expected to last a lot longer.

  • learned that Walnut Ridge's permit fees are below the rates of neighboring cities and tabled a vote to increase the amount of the fees.

  • tentatively scheduled an auction to sell old equipment the city no longer uses for March 23. Old police cars and a small tractor are among some of the items to be auctioned

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