An opinion from Minnesota's state auditor that cities have no authority to issue their own administrative traffic tickets has irked a few area police officials.
"Her opinion doesn't carry the weight of law, that I know of, and I disagree with her conclusions," said Brainerd Police Chief John Bolduc of Auditor Pat Awada's opinion, released Thursday.
City officials, hit with a loss of state aid, like the administrative tickets because nearly all the fines go directly back to the city, instead of being split with counties and the state. Brainerd and Little Falls have adopted ordinances implementing administrative tickets. Baxter is in the process of drafting an ordinance.
In Brainerd, an administrative ticket is issued for petty misdemeanors, which include disorderly household, curfew, minor speeding, vehicle noise, garbage, park and recreation and animal violations.
When issued an administrative offense, an offender has seven days to pay the penalty. In that seven-day period, the person has the opportunity to request a citation in district court. If the person fails to pay the penalty, the city can pursue misdemeanor charges.
Since adopting the ordinance in June, Brainerd has issued about 12 administrative tickets, said Bolduc, with fine amounts of either $40 or $50.
The tickets also are more popular with those on the receiving end because they get to avoid paying steep surcharges -- increased to $60 this year -- added on to state tickets. The administrative citations also don't get reported to insurance companies.
Awada, however, questioned the legality of the administrative tickets.
"Cities and counties may think this is a very clever way to increase revenues in their coffers but the Legislature requires use of a uniform state ticket ...," said Awada in a news release. "By using their own local tickets, cities appear to be circumventing state law."
Little Falls Police Chief Mike Pender said Awada is wrong about cities using the administrative tickets as a revenue source. He said Little Falls implemented the administrative tickets because the state's fine schedule was out of line for outstate Minnesota.
"Police officers from small towns have a hard time hanging a $125 speeding ticket on someone when you know that's their sustenance for the month," said Pender, whose department has been issuing administrative tickets for about a year. "You don't need a sledgehammer to kill a fly. It's just the fair way of doing things."
Contradicting Awada's claim, Pender said administrative tickets are being singled out only because they take revenue away from the state.
"If it wasn't a financial boon for them, they wouldn't be looking at it," said Pender.
Awada said cities have greater leeway to impose the other sorts of non-traffic tickets, because of the way they're incorporated. Some 107 cities in the state, such as Brainerd and Little Falls, are considered "charter cities" and have greater power to issue administrative penalties.
Though Awada's office has the power to review spending of municipalities and investigate irregularities, she does not have the final say on the matter.
Her top deputy, Tony Sutton, said the next step would be for Attorney General Mike Hatch to issue a legal opinion on the subject. Hatch's spokeswoman, Leslie Sandberg, said the attorney general's office hasn't received a request for an opinion, but would offer one when it's received.
Bolduc said the issue will be discussed at Monday's Brainerd City Council meeting.
Until the state makes a final determination, Bolduc and Pender said their departments will continue to issue administrative traffic tickets.
Baxter Police Chief Robbi Gallant said, despite Awada's opinion, he and City Attorney Brad Person will continue to research an administrative ticket ordinance for their city.
"We'll just have to wait and see. It's my understanding, at this point, nothing illegal is happening," said Gallant.
(This story includes information from The Associated Press.)
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