By David Howell
COFFEEVILLE – Sign shooting, tree painting, road littering and other detestable acts in the county triggered conversation at Friday’s Board of Supervisor meeting about finding long-term solutions to combat the problematic behavior.
“If we don’t address it, it is going to keep getting worse and worse,” District 3 Supervisor Lee McMinn explained as county officials spent almost a half-hour on the matter during the meeting at Coffeeville.
The dialogue followed a report from Sheriff Lance Humphreys alerting supervisors that his funding from the U.S. Corps of Engineers to provide patrols at the lake could be cut. (See related story, page 2).
McMinn noted that the cuts could affect patrols at prime areas around the lake, pointing to Wildcat Brake as an example.
“One of the prettiest places on the upper end of the lake is out there at Wildcat,” McMinn noted, before sharing the picture of eight cypress trees that had been spray painted, a letter placed on each tree to spell G-O-L-D-D-U-S-T.
“There are tons of garbage, cans and litter all over the place,” McMinn added. He also cited a post on Facebook where a man reported he had been threatened, a note placed on his truck while he was fishing telling him not to come back to Wildcat.
“This is a public place, one of the prettiest spots on the upper end of the lake,” McMinn reiterated about Wildcat Brake.
Humphreys reported that extra patrols have been added in the area of Wildcat Brake. He also told supervisors that deputies had spent several hours hiding in the bushes one Friday night after receiving a report of a possible party in the area.
“We kept getting calls, so we weren’t able to stay all night. And we were too busy the next night to do surveillance at Wildcat,” the sheriff explained.
Shifting to other problems, McMinn said he had a couple of guys working on his road crew recently to pick up garbage on a county road.
“We had a pickup load of garbage, in less than a year’s time, on a mile and half of road,” McMinn explained about the accumulation that followed a previous pickup a year ago.
McMinn also displayed road signs from CR 113 that were riddled with bullet holes.
“I don’t know what we can do. What do we do? We can’t just keep letting this element of people continue to do what they do,” he added.
“I agree,” Board President Cayce Washington said.
“We have to have more involvement from the people,” District 5 Supervisor Gaylon Gray noted, adding that when someone observes littering to call the sheriff’s department.
Other input included Chancery Clerk Amy McMinn’s suggestion to provide anti-littering campaigns in schools and District 4 Supervisor Timothy Booker’s idea to allow clubs and organization to adopt a portion of a road to pick up litter, similar to state highways. Board Attorney John Crow also noted that if people were busted for littering and the citations were publicized, it may help with the problem.
“Bottom line, it is up to the people to keep the roads clean. You can’t devote enough time and manpower when they throw it out quicker than you pick it up,” Gray added.
“That’s exactly right, what the citizens of this county have got to do is understand if they ride by and see litter on the road, they either have to stop and pick it up or help law enforcement catch whoever it is,” McMinn agreed.
“It starts with us. It starts with the sheriff,” McMinn continued. “If the folks see that we care and make it a priority, then maybe they will make it a priority. What I would like to propose, not today, but we will think about it, is upping the fine (for littering),” McMinn noted as the littering problem then prompted questions about the maximum fine that can be imposed in justice court for littering. This also spawned scrutiny on the justice court system. The scrutiny included not utilizing the work program to allow offenders who owe back fines to perform community service as a penalty option and the number of cases not successfully prosecuted after an arrest.
“You can’t do it. That is up to (justice court) judges,” Board Attorney Crow explained about increasing the fines for littering. “I don’t know about any of the existing judges, but one of our prior judges lowered his fines so much that the court costs were five times the amount of the fine. Court costs that go to the state. It is up to them about how much to fine,” Crow said, again.
“You start telling them (what to fine), you are invading their province and they get all up in the air because they have that black robe. I am talking about a prior judge that got bent out of shape because the board was trying to tell him what to fine. They aren’t willing to work with you,” Crow continued.
“These are elected judges?” Lee McMinn asked.
“These are elected judges,” Crow answered.
“Well there you go, if they show up on the front page of the paper enough times,” Lee McMinn said.
“You start cutting their budgets and you will get their attention,” Crow added.
“We want these roadsides cleaned up. We want them patrolled. I mentioned to Lance (Humphreys), I would be happy to make some kind of contribution for game cameras or something to get in some of these key places and catch a few folks,” Lee McMinn said.
“If you get kids riding by, seeing a bunch of inmates picking up trash…,” Humphreys also suggested about using offenders who owe fines in justice court as a deterrent.
“I will speak to that,” Washington said. “I think we have made pretty bold statement that we are trying to support law enforcement, we gave $50,000 (more money for budget) last year, we have a new fleet of cars. But we have cases that are dismissed for various reasons. We are getting them to the jail and getting them to the court system and sometimes they are not getting penalized. We are spending $250 in court costs for a $40 fine in some cases. Or they get dismissed for whatever reason,” Washington continued. He added that he would like to get the justice court clerk to provide a monthly court docket for supervisors to follow the outcome of court cases.
Washington also expressed frustration with the implementation of a work program in justice court to allow offenders an option to pick up trash on roadsides as a penalty.
“What do we have to do to make this litter pickup work? I am at a stalemate, I can’t get anything going,” Washington continued.
Conversation on the problems came to a close as supervisors were in agreement that they would have to provide leadership on addressing the litter problems.