Sierra Vista city council members are justifiably concerned that Cochise County officials have failed to provide a breakdown of revenue collected by the Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace court.
The council is deciding whether to renew an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) for court services provided by JP5. Terms of the agreement would have Sierra Vista pay $161,000 to the county along with turning over all the revenue collected from fines and charges associated with citations issued within the city.
That’s where the rub comes in.
More than a year ago councilwoman Kristine Wolfe asked for a detailed breakdown of the revenues the court collects from different government entities. Earlier this month, when the council was asked to renew the IGA, Wolfe expressed frustration, shared by other council members, that the county still had not provided the figures.
We have little doubt that Sierra Vista is getting a bargain from the county. Previous estimates of the cost to establish a city-operated municipal court put the total at around $1 million a year to employ a judge and court employees, and pay for a facility to host the proceedings. We would not expect revenue from local citations and fines to offset the additional cost Sierra Vista would incur with its own court.
But that’s not the point of this argument.
Sierra Vista council members, and the public in general, are entitled to this information. The amount of revenue received by the JP5 court, and the sources of that revenue, are considered public records and should be easily accessible.
The information is especially important to council members who are charged with reviewing the terms of an IGA that until now has routinely been renewed with little discussion. Following the ruckus created by the appointment of the current JP5 magistrate last year, it is incumbent that council members take a close look at the terms of this agreement and completely understand the commitment they are making on behalf of the city.
Knowing the revenue figures should be part of that review.
Sierra Vista is not alone in its frustration with county court officials. Earlier this month the Presiding Justice of the Peace of the Willcox Justice Court Precinct 4, Trevor Ward, who was speaking for all the justices, told county supervisors none of the justices will sign a consolidation agreement proposed by James Conlogue, presiding judge of the Cochise County Superior Court. County supervisors were scheduled to discuss the dispute at a work session Wednesday.
Conlogue and county officials are directly responsible for the delay in providing Sierra Vista with the information it is requesting for council members to make their decision on the IGA. They are also responsible for the dispute with the Justice of the Peace courts.
Considering it has often been the responsibility of Arizona courts to uphold the state law on public records, it is shameful that this public records request has be put off for more than a year.