Courtesy Jonathan Copsey / Appen Newspapers
January 11, 2010 MILTON - Last week's council meeting was filled with formality. As the first council meeting of the year, not only were the newly elected officials – Mayor Joe Lockwood and Council members Bill Lusk, Karen Thurman and Joe Longoria – administered their oaths of office, but volunteer committee members had to be reinstated as well.
For Longoria, who was elected in November, defeating incumbent Tina D'Aversa, it was his first council meeting where he was seated on the dais, instead of in the audience.
Council member Burt Hewitt was named the new Mayor Pro Tem.
Lockwood opened the meeting with a New Year's greeting: "Tonight's a special night and this year is a special year," said Lockwood. "I'm proud to be reelected as the city mayor and serving you for the next four years... We're excited to have new Council member Joe Longoria and welcome him here, as well as incumbent Council members Lusk and Thurman who were reelected. I'm excited to move forward with our city."
The new year will likely be one of challenges for the city, with the biggest being the transition from a public-private partnership with company CH2M Hill to a government that is mainly public.
One of the first items heard by the new council was a new program requested by City Solicitor Fran Shoenthal – don't charge first offenders for crimes.
This may sound like a problem, but in fact Shoenthal believes this will be a "win-win" scenario for both the offender and the city.
Instead of charging a first offender who has committed a minor offense, such as small-time theft, minor possession of marijuana and underage drinking, will be given the option of being charged and having their transgression go on their permanent record, or they can take part in the "Pre-Trial Intervention and Diversion Program." This program puts the charges against the offender on hold for a year and, instead of jail time, makes the offender perform community service and attend classes, as well as pay a fine. Should they successfully complete the year-long program, the charges will be dropped.
"They don't have to carry around a conviction for a minor offense for the rest of their lives," said Shoenthal. Typically, this program would be used for teens or other young people who do as young people do – make bad decisions.
"It a win-win for the city and especially for the offender," Shoenthal said. "Those that are genuinely interested, eligible and motivated to go through a program like this will be very successful."
And if they fail and commit another crime?
Not only will they be charged with the new crime, the old crime will automatically be added to the record as a guilty plea. It's a double-whammy that any teenager should not be looking forward to. According to Shoenthal, there is a 10 percent failure rate.
"It's worked well in the past because we've had some form of this treatment anyway," added Judge Barry Zimmerman. "This just formalizes it." According to Zimmerman, nearly every municipality and state has such a program.
Council member Julie Zahner-Bailey suggested that the community service be directed toward activities that benefit the community.
The council unanimously approved the ordinance creating the program.