12/12/2019Missouri Attorney General Blasts City Over Taxation By Citation
Missouri attorney general charges the city of Marshfield with operating an illegal traffic ticket quota.
Traffic tickets are being used to raise revenue in Marshfield, Missouri, in violation of the law. That was the gist of a lawsuit filed Monday by state Attorney General Eric S. Schmitt accusing the speed trap town of 6600 residents of engaging in "taxation by citation" using an illegal traffic ticket quota.
"The attorney general of Missouri has received credible information that the city of Marshfield, Missouri, and its chief of police, Doug Fannen, are flagrantly violating these prohibitions," Schmitt wrote to the Webster County Circuit Court. "On information and belief, the city of Marshfield and its chief of police are directing their police officers to write a minimum number of tickets every month for the purpose of generating additional municipal revenue. The attorney general seeks immediate declaratory and injunctive relief to put an end to this unlawful practice."
Documents and whistleblower testimony allege that the chief in 2018 ordered his officers to each write at least sixteen tickets per month, and that the number of tickets written would be a key factor in their employee performance evaluation. The ticketing numbers were also posted on a scoreboard in the department, and those who failed to write enough citations were subjected to discipline. Chief Fannen made sure not to put his quota policy in writing, but the message was clearly delivered. The department issued 383 tickets in 2016 compared to 1386 in 2018 with the quota.
"On information and belief, the department and the chief of police is motivated not by a concern for public safety, but rather to generate revenue for the city of Marshfield," Schmitt wrote.
A city budget document showed the calculation that a traffic enforcement officer with a $35,321 salary could haul in $176,600 in profit by maintaining a ticketing rate of eight citations per shift. This officer is required to write nine tickets per shift, compared to the non-traffic officers who are still required to bring in sixteen tickets per month.
An officer who complained about the illegal ticket quota was forced to resign. The chief allegedly threatened to file felony charges against the officer if he tipped off the attorney general about the quota.
"The laws protect Missouri citizens -- especially our least fortunate citizens -- from oppressive ticketing practices and nefarious revenue-generating tactics," Schmitt wrote.
The lawsuit seeks a court injunction preventing the city from continuing to use quotas.