Mount Carmel mayor accused of threatening police officers to increase ticket revenue

Jeff Bobo • Feb 26, 2014 at 5:19 PM

MOUNT CARMEL — Some past Mount Carmel employees are alleging that police officers were “pressured” and “threatened” with dismissal if they didn’t increase revenue gained through citations.

Tuesday evening the Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved the 2012-13 audit, which was almost completely positive except for one big negative finding at the end.

Certified public accountant Mickey Ellis states in the audit report that he interviewed past town employees who stated that they were “questioned, pressured, and had their continued employment threatened regarding the number (dollar amount) of traffic citations issued.”

The audit further states that the town is potentially in violation of Tennessee Code Annotated 36-16-516, which states, “A political subdivision, or any agency of this state may not establish or maintain, formally or informally, a plan to evaluate, promote, compensate, or discipline a law enforcement officer solely by the issuance of a predetermined or specified number of any type or combination of types of traffic citations.”

Sources within the town told the Times-News that Mayor Larry Frost was the one putting pressure on police officers, as well as the police chief, to increase citation revenue.

Following Tuesday’s Board of Mayor and Alderman meeting, however, Mayor Frost told the Times-News those were false allegations made by disgruntled former employees.

“That’s against state statute,” Frost said. “You cannot put a quota as far as the number of citations written.”

City Attorney Chris Raines said that if the current number of citations issued falls below past numbers, the mayor has the right to question why. Mayor Frost said that’s what the past employees may have been referring to when they spoke to Ellis, but he said he never threatened anyone’s job if they failed to meet a quota.

“I check everything in this city,” Mayor Frost added. “I can tell you how many citations are written. I can tell you how much salt goes out of here. I can tell you how many loads of rock we get in this city. That’s my job, to check it all.”

During the 2012-13 fiscal year Mount Carmel police generated $106,703 in revenue through city court fines. The BMA had only budgeted $90,000 for city court revenue that year.

In 2011-12, city court fine revenue was $105,270, and budgeted at $92,000; and in 2010-11, revenue was $109,861 and budgeted at $95,000.

In 2009-10, city court fine revenue was much lower at $66,904; and it was $79,203 in 2008-09.

What has been on a steady decline is is photo speed enforcement revenue, which was $162,106 in 2008-09, and has decreased every year since to $127,830 in 2009-10; $80,346 in 2010-11; $53,106 in 2011-12; and $49,268 in 2012-13.

Former Mount Carmel city court clerk Kathy Painter told the Times-News Tuesday she heard Mayor Frost pressuring police staff to increase citation revenue, but she never heard him threaten to fire anyone.

Painter left Mount Carmel last October to take a job with the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office as an SRO at Keplar and McPheeter's Bend elementary schools.

“He (Mayor Frost) did say he wanted a monetary value put on how many citations they wrote to see if they were earning their keep,” Painter said. “What he wanted me to do was add a monetary value to the tickets they wrote, and I told him I couldn’t do that because some people don’t pay. He wouldn’t let me count warning tickets to the total of their tickets.”

Painter added, “He was wanting officers to write more tickets. I believe they were pressured to increase their (citation) revenue.”

Former MCPD Officer Bobby Moffitt was told to resign by Mayor Frost in December after he went home to get his lunch while on duty. He is currently a deputy with the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office.

Moffitt said he too felt the pressure to increase citation revenue.

“Chief Campbell came to the officers after a meeting with Mayor Frost, and he was distraught, and he told us his job was on the line if we did not write more tickets,” Moffitt said. “I can’t speak for everyone else, but I felt pressured and under duress to write tickets. We tried (to write more tickets). I stopped just as many cars, but (before) I’d give just as many warnings as tickets.” Moffitt added, “They were all legitimate citations. After that, when a warning would otherwise have been sufficient, we would write a ticket instead.”

One current Mount Carmel employee agreed to speak to the Times-News on the condition of anonymity because, according to this employee, Mayor Frost would fire anyone who made public statements about this situation. That employee stated that Ellis not only interviewed past employees, but also corroborated their statements by speaking to current employees.

“The mayor had the city court clerk pull citation histories per officer to see if they were earning their salaries through citations, which is illegal,” the employee said. “He wanted to know exactly how much money each officer had brought in. When you’ve got a mayor demanding more revenue regardless of how many citations officers are writing, he just wants more and more and more, and nobody could write enough citations.”

The employee said that along with the patrolmen, MCPD Chief Mike Campbell’s job was threatened. The Times-News contacted Campbell for a comment. Campbell said he is reserving any comment on this issue for the time being.

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