Board workshop Thursday to discuss future of city’s Municipal Court system

Dave Marner
Managing Editor

Rhonda Newman could be both stern and nurturing in her role as clerk of Owensville’s Municipal Court.

She often handled calls from those on the court docket who requested more time to pay a fine, or to have a hearing rescheduled. Some requests she could grant. Others, as she told a caller earlier this past year, she could not.

A payment needed to be made, she told the caller. It didn’t matter if it was only $10 or $20 but a payment must be made or the judge could issue a warrant. On another day, she told a caller they must appear before the judge. Don’t forget, she reminded the caller. It’s important you are in court, she told the caller, you don’t want a warrant issued for failure to appear.

Newman died during the night, her family announced Friday afternoon on Facebook. She had received a terminal cancer diagnosis this fall and has been away from City Hall since she was hospitalized suddenly in early November related to the illness.

While her visitation is scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. today (Wednesday) at Gottenstroeter Funeral Home, and her funeral is at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, also at Gottenstroeter’s, Owensville aldermen are scheduled to conduct a community committee workshop at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall to discuss the future of the city’s municipal court.

It quickly became in apparent in November that Newman would not be returning to her position any time soon —if ever. The city’s court dates in November and December were already cancelled, it was announced in mid-November when aldermen were informed other city staff members were receiving training to handle the immediate reporting needs of the court.

City Administrator Nathan Schauf told aldermen the city would need to start the process to find a replacement clerk. The November court docket was rescheduled for January and the December docket was postponed until February, Schauf said at the city’s Nov. 19 meeting.

By the time their Dec. 3 meeting was held, Schauf had scheduled discussion on the future of the city’s court noting Newman’s “unfortunate diagnosis” warranted the board’s immediate consideration.

Schauf began the discussion noting the Missouri Supreme Court had issued mandates on how municipal courts are operated. A court clerk must have state certification. Newman was certified through the Missouri Association of Court Administration. New online reporting begins for Missouri’s municipal court in March, said Schauf.

The town of Rosebud disbanded its municipal court in late 2017. It will be February before their cases begin being heard in the county’s associate circuit court, Schauf told aldermen at their Dec. 17 meeting. Other small municipalities were also disbanding their local courts, or considering doing so, Schauf told aldermen in early December.

Schauf said at the time there was the “potential for a long-term absence or worse.” “I feel we need to do our due diligence in all aspects,” said Ward 1 Alderman Cathy Lahmeyer at the first meeting in December. Kevin McFadden, her fellow Ward 1 representative, offered support for maintaining a local court but agreed they should explore their options.

“I like the personal touch,” said McFadden of having a local court.

Aldermen agreed they liked having a local court to handle specific ordinances such a nuisance violations written by city police. Schauf noted their court clerk was a full-time staff position.

City Clerk Bobbi Limberg and Deputy Clerk Peggy Farrell explained they had received a “day and a half” of training from computer support technicians on filing court reports as mandate just to remain in compliance with current mandates.

Farrell asked aldermen, “are we keeping it or not?”

The two clerks told aldermen they had received offers from court clerks in other communities to come and help them with monthly reports. “We don’t know how much you want someone from the outside coming in,” said Farrell.

She added that neither her nor Limberg were certified court personnel. Limberg said they checked with officials at the Missouri Department of Revenue which oversees the collections of fines and the city was told Schauf had the authority to sign off on court reports in absence of a certified court administrator.

That prompted a question from the board about how fines were distributed. Limberg said portions of fines collected are disbursed by state mandate to fund sheriff’s operations in each county. The DOR had authority over those funds.

Schauf, responding to McFadden’s question about whether or not court costs assessed along with fines covered a municipal court’s operating costs, reminded aldermen their court clerk also handled other duties in daily city hall operations as needed such as utility fee collections.

Schauf concluded their Dec. 3 discussion saying now was the time for aldermen to give serious consideration to the question of whether or not they wanted to continue having a municipal court or phase it out. And, if they wanted to maintain a court locally, did they look for a temporary, or permanent, replacement clerk.

With Newman’s death, unfortunately, the decision to retain the court will now require a permanent replacement.

Schauf presented additional information at the city’s Dec. 17 meeting which prompted the board to plan the workshop session for Jan. 3 to continue their discus- sion on court options.

Schauf said he received information that from associate circuit court of cials that additional staf ng would be needed there to handle any additional municipal court cases on the county docket. Schauf said he was told there was a “six-month lead time to implement a switch-over” from the city’s court to the county’s associate circuit court.

He said officials with the city of Hermann were also considering eliminating their municipal court. “The associate circuit would need additional staff,” said Schauf.

McFadden, noting this was his “editorial comments, added, “the state wants us to do this” regarding the elimination of municipal courts. “Just another unfunded mandate,” said Mayor John Kamler.

Newman benefit Jan. 12 at Moose

A planned benefit for the Newman family on Jan. 12 at the Owensville Moose Lodge Family Center on First Street will be held as scheduled, according to a Facebook post this past weekend by Carla Price.

“As most of you have heard, Rhonda Newman’s battle with cancer has ended,” Price’s post begins. “Bless her heart. The benefit will still go on as planned on January the 12th, to help the family with expenses.”

Items for a silent auction are being accepted at the lodge, City Hall, or by calling Price at 573-291-5458. “Plan to join us on the 12th to celebrate the life of our dear friend!” Price concluded her post.