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VOL. 35 | NO. 46 | Friday, November 18, 2011

Lakewood 'speed trap' gone but ticket troubles live on

By Colleen Creamer

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How to have your license reinstated

Think your driver license has been suspended because of an unpaid traffic ticket? You can check your license status online or contact the Tennessee Department of Safety (253-5221, 866 849-3548).


If your license has been suspended because of an unpaid Lakewood ticket, you will need to:

  • Go to nashville.gov 
  • Search for RS2011-5. 
  • Print the resolution or get copy of resolution at: Metro Council Office, Metro Courthouse, One Public Square, Suite 204, Nashville, TN 37219 
  • Go to the Davidson County Reinstatement Driver Service Center, 1601 Murfreesboro Rd., present copy of RS2011-5 and pay the reinstatement fee ($65 for moving violation, $35 for non-moving violation).

Another option is to pay online and complete the transaction at any Davidson County Driver Service Center location.

When Davidson County absorbed the city of Lakewood in May, it also inherited a headache – Lakewood’s unpaid traffic tickets.

The result has been a mess for which neither Metro nor the Tennessee Department of Safety has a comprehensive solution.

“They were fiercely writing tickets [during Lakewood’s last month as a city],” says Metro Councilman Darren Jernigan, who had Lakewood added to his district after residents decided – by 11 votes – that the tiny Davidson County municipality should no longer exist.

“So, these people took their tickets and went to court, and they were either found guilty or pleaded guilty. They then had 30 days to pay their fines.”

When Lakewood ceased being a city, however, there was no office or official to accept the fines.

“The last thing (Lakewood officials) quickly did was turn in all those unpaid tickets to the state, and those folks got their licenses suspended.”

Lakewood surrendered about 1,200 unpaid traffic tickets amounting to approximately $450,000 in fines and court costs. Nearly all of the alleged violations occurred along Old Hickory Boulevard, Lakewood’s main thoroughfare.

A resolution sponsored by Jernigan and Sean McGuire, Metro Council’s Budget and Finance Committee chair, waived the fines and court costs. Collecting the fines, Metro officials believed, would be more costly than the revenue generated.

“It was a mess,” Jernigan says. “I put an ordinance in that says we are not looking to prosecute. We forgive all those tickets. The state law says that only the court that issues it can release them, and that court was gone.”

Tom Cross, associate director of Metro’s Department of Law, says he understands there may be two types of cases and it will be up to the Tennessee Department of Safety to deal with the matter.

“If you could divide things into sets, there was the set where things had been fully adjudicated, and that was the set that Council dealt with,” Cross says.

“I am not really sure what the status is of the others,” he adds, speaking to the cases in which alleged offenders did not go to court or pay their fine.

John Kennedy, Metro Water Services Department deputy director, became the de facto overseer of the traffic tickets project as the department was already involved in water and floodplain projects.

“It’s probably not as straightforward as you might think, and that’s one of the reasons that we chose the path that we did to resolve this,” Kennedy says.

“What we inherited was two file cabinets full of tickets that were labeled ‘suspended.’ Some of them were decades old. Some were newer, but there was no list of everyone who was in there.”

Kennedy said the task of pulling all those tickets, recording the names and addresses and communicating with the ticket holders is not tenable for Metro.

“We followed the approach of a general absolution,” Kennedy says. “If someone goes to the state, and the state says ‘Your license has been suspended because of Lakewood,’ we will hand you a copy of that resolution from council saying that you don’t owe anything, and then the state will release (your) license.”

The Tennessee Department of Safety is less forgiving.

The department’s director of finance, Kenneth Birdwell, says those wishing to get their licenses back will have to pay a $65 reinstatement fee for a moving violation – the majority of tickets – and a $35 fee for a non-moving violation. Birdwell says he is not aware that any of the suspended licenses may not have been given due process.

“We haven’t had the issue come up before. I don’t know anything about that,” Birdwell says.

“What Metro did doesn’t change the status of their license. The resolution, of course, just took care of the fines. The reinstatement fee is still in effect. The statute requires that we collect the fee for that suspension. They [Metro] didn’t actually set aside the suspension, they were just waiving any kind of interest they had in the fines.”

Reinstatement will remain a state matter, says Tom Cross, associate director of Metro’s Department of Law.

“We really don’t have a position on that,” Cross says. “We did the only thing that we could do in Metro to facilitate these people getting their licenses back, which was to have the council to waive any claim we might have to the fines.”

If a resident believes they are paying to have a license reinstated that should never have been suspended, they have recourse, Cross explains.

The state just hasn’t figured out yet what that recourse will be.

Kennedy says it is his understanding that those driving with a suspended license will not go to jail if they get pulled over by Metro.

“As I understand it, they don’t generally get taken to jail,” Kennedy says. “They will have to show up at a court date to show that your license is clean.”

While the solution to old tickets is less than clear, Jernigan says Lakewood’s dissolution did take care of one traffic problem.

“(Lakewood police) were very diligent at their job; I will say that,” the Councilman says. “Lakewood was less than one square mile, so if you have a police force of four or five, they just sit on the road.

“The speed limit hasn’t changed. It’s just that Metro doesn’t have time to sit out there, so, if there is any kind of speed trap, as some would say, that is gone.”

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