Valley Falls city officials, judge discuss community service options
by Clarke Davis
City lawmakers and the judicial branch met at Valley Falls city hall Jan. 25 to work out procedures for young people to be able to provide community service in lieu of paying court fines and costs.
The work will be based on $5 an hour and only those who sign an agreement stating they are willing to work and follow the rules will be allowed the opportunity to enter the program.
City prosecutor Rick Johnson said he thought it would be a rare adult who would want into the program, but it was good for juveniles whose parents, in most cases, would have to pay for the fines if their children did not work it off.
Judge Dennis Reiling was willing to work with the city and thought it might be a good example for other towns and even the district court.
Mayor Charles Stutesman and council members Jo Tichenor, Shawn Jepson, and Lucy Thomas attended the session and offered to assist the police chief in overseeing some of the work details.
Some of the work juveniles will be asked to do includes ridding sidewalks of weeds, clearing gutters of leaves, painting picnic benches, paint the pool bathhouse, and paint parking stripes. Those under 18 are not allowed to operate mowers or power tools.
Council members were questioning the judge about using them to help elderly people, such as raking leaves on private property. The judge said this was a gray area, but it might be OK if it was considered a city project.
He cautioned that they should avoid working on the lawns belonging to the mayor or a city official. This brought some chuckles and Tichenor was disappointed because she thought that might eliminate cleaning barns.
Back on a serious note, Johnson explained that nearly everyone of these juveniles who go through the court are good people who have made bad choices.
“They will go on to be responsible citizens and hold down jobs someday,” he said. “For now we just need a program so that their mistakes won’t burden their parents.”
The city has had some bad experiences in the past with similar programs. Young people often came with a bad attitude and either refused to work or did a poor job. Thus the reason for having them sign an agreement beforehand and having a police officer oversee their work performance.
The mayor wanted to know if he could order hot pink shirts marked “community service” for them to wear for added humiliation.
“Maybe if their buddies tease them it will be a deterrent,” he said.
The judge said he didn’t give legal advice and pointed to Johnson, who ignored the question.
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