Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Jenks deserves a round of applause for finding a way to streamline services for Missoula residents without asking for more taxpayer money to fund it.
As described by Jenks to members of the city Administration and Finance Committee last week, the new traffic bureau being planned by the court will allow folks with minor traffic offenses to settle their tickets without first having to wait to see a judge. The bureau will consist of a "traffic ticket settlement master," a position the court would fill by reclassifying a current Municipal Court employee.
Jenks told the committee that an ordinance enacted in the 1970s allows the court to establish such a bureau, and that the current number of traffic cases going through Municipal Court warrants taking advantage of the option. The settlement master would be empowered to defer tickets based on a predetermined set of guidelines and qualifications, with some room for discretion when determining fines.
Since most people want to talk to Jenks about their tickets because they are seeking to have them deferred, the new bureau promises to free up time both for the judge and for those who sometimes face long waits for the relatively straightforward process of resolving a minor traffic offense.
To be clear, the court does offer the option of allowing most tickets to be paid by mail, over the phone, online or in person at the counter (the address is 435 Ryman St., Missoula MT 59802). Those with tickets can visit the Municipal Court page of the city's website at www.ci.missoula.mt.us or call the court at 406-552-6180 ahead of time for more information and to make sure they don't need to see a judge.
The new traffic bureau seems like a resourceful response to concerns about a growing court caseload. Jenks, the court's only elected judge, recently asked City Council to approve a request for a second, part-time judge - and $60,000 to fund the position. Councilors denied the request after determining that the caseload was still manageable.
However, city administrators are smart to begin working now on a plan to address future needs - both how best to meet them and how best to fund them. Hopefully the traffic bureau plan will inspire similar solutions.