HAMMOND — City Clerk Robert Golec's office would act as a clearinghouse for lower-level city ordinance violations, in place of soon-to-be-defunct Hammond City Court under a proposal floated by the Hammond Common Council this week.
The council on Monday introduced a city code change that creates a formal way for the clerk to handle non-traffic violations and allow violators to pay a fine and avoid going to court.
City Councilman Dave Woerpel, D-5th, said the new bureau is part of the city's transition away from having its own municipal court.
Mayor Thomas McDermott said there were talks earlier this year of creating a three-member board/bureau that would hear ordinance violations, determine whether to assess a fine on a case-by-case basis and settle issues with residents rather than the city filing costly court cases.
"It was starting to sound like we were going to get rid of a court and set up another court, just to deal with ordinances, and we started questioning that," McDermott said.
He said that's when Golec approached the administration with the idea for his office to act as a "clearinghouse" for lower-level, non-traffic ordinance violations and allow residents to settle by paying the fines and avoid costly court filing fees.
For example, if a person doesn't properly obtain dog tags for their pets, the city can cite them and agree not to file a court case against them if they pay the fine or come into compliance, and the ordinance violation would be wiped from their record.
"If they comply, there could be no charge or fee at all. It saves the offender a lot of court costs, or any fee, if they chose that route," Councilman Pete Torres said.
"But if they want to fight it, they can go to 200 Russell St.," McDermott said.
The council voted in January 2017 to phase out City Court over a two-year period. The move is anticipated to save as much as $1.5 million annually.