COLONIE — Hundreds of thousands of dollars of potential revenue is sitting in limbo and the longer the town waits to process thousands of traffic tickets the harder it will be to collect, according a vehicle and traffic prosecutor.
There has always been a backlog of cases in traffic court, but that was exasperated when it, like many other things, was closed to help stop the spread of COVID-19, David Rowley, one of two a traffic prosecutors, told the Town Board.
“I believe if we had a third vehicle and traffic prosecutor who can help deal with the backlog, with the help of the court, because the courts control the schedule of these tickets, we could make great headway,” he said. “Some of these tickets are getting old, some from 2017, and people move and officers and troopers retire and the tickets can’t be prosecuted if that happens.”
The board was looking to hire a third traffic prosecutor through the end of this year to help out but it was tabled until the next meeting at the earliest. Republicans on the board did not like Supervisor Paula Mahan’s idea of hiring Larry Magguilli for the spot since he is the son of Town Attorney Michael Magguilli.
Town Board member Rick Field asked if the position was properly advertised and called the appointment “nepotism.”
“I don’t think the residents will like this,” he said. “It’s like a good old boy shop. There are any number of qualified people out there who would step forward if they knew about it. Is nepotism a good thing or a bad thing?”
Then Town Board member David Green, who officially handed in his resignation to the board and was sworn in as a judge at the same meeting, said he recommended Larry Magguilli for the position. He added a third position is “absolutely necessary” because a judge cannot legally negotiate a plea bargain with a defendant but only has the authority to sign off on what is agreed upon by the prosecutor.
“Each judge would have their own vehicle and traffic prosecutor and I asked for Larry,” Green said. “He has a fantastic resume and he is overqualified. “It [a third prosecutor] is an absolute necessity, it’s budget neutral and I don’t see any downsides in doing it.”
The new prosecutor would make $13,000 for the position that would last until the end of 2021.
Mahan, who is retiring at the end of this year, said it is not a civil service position or any long term appointment and the new administration can do as it chooses next year. Right now, she said, the third prosecutor is needed to begin clearing the backlog.
“The rational for this is to try to get somewhat caught up so the court system can move in a positive direction and stabilize this backlog that continues to grow,” she said. “We have to resolve the situation.”
There is a significant amount of potential revenue out there. According to Chris Kelsey, the acting comptroller, the town collected $862,788 from traffic tickets and other fines in 2019, that is up from $854,919 in 2018 but down slightly from a recent high of $1 million in 2015.
In 2020, the town collected $382,520 and there are up to 5,000 outstanding traffic tickets that have not been adjudicated. Each ticket carries a different fine but on average they are between $100 and $150 each.
“There is between $250,000 to 400,000 sitting out there on the table,” Green said. “The longer we wait the more people move and there is no accountability. Taking time and pausing to do an extensive interview process really isn’t practical.
“If you look at the need versus nepotism, which is a buzz word as of late, it is shooting yourself in the foot.”
The town attorney’s office has been stepping up to help sort through the backlog, but Mahan said it is not their job to deal with traffic tickets and the office is already down an attorney.
“We have to do something to get this under control. And we want someone who will work hard, who has a reputation of working hard, so by December we will get it under control,” Mahan said. “Although we would love to get started immediately, it is a better practice to wait a couple weeks. It is something that has to be done.”
In addition to concerns over nepotism, Field disputed the need for a third prosecutor, saying “COVID is going away and a number of these people we will never find anyway.”
“COVID is going away but the residue is still here. We are still dealing with it. Nine months with a vehicle and traffic prosecutor would be a great assistance to clear the backlog and the prosecutor would more than pay for himself,” Rowley said. “If someone is capable of performing the job, which Larry is, then it is not nepotism.”
While Democrats do outnumber Republicans 5-2 on the board and could have pushed through the hire, it was tabled until the April 15 meeting.