The two local public servants who took opposing sides over a magnetic decal at the town of Jonesboro Board of Aldermen meeting held on October 12th has done what they said they would do. Jonesboro Police Chief James “Spike” Harris has issued a citation which is in regard to identification of property owned by the public to Jonesboro Mayor Leslie Thompson, who stated at the meeting he would see how much authority Harris had when he issued him a ticket.
Ticket times two! Actually Thompson was ticketed twice. The first resulted from the ultimatum that Harris gave the Mayor at the Town Council meeting, that he had seven days to comply with the law stating that a public owned vehicle must have correct identification. This came after Harris had asked Thompson a month before to put the correct identification on the Mayor’s car instead of a magnetic decal the Mayor had attached to the front doors of the vehicle.
After the time frame was up and there was still no “permanent” marking on the Mayor’s car, Thompson was issued a citation. Two days later, after Thompson told the JPD Chief that by two days later he would have the proper identification put on the car, another ticket was issued when it was proven that he had not followed through with his pledge. The statute actually states that a ticket can be issued daily until the statute was complied with but as Harris states all he wants is to see that the law is complied with.
“I have given Mayor Thompson ample opportunities to do the right thing,” said Harris. “I gave him a month to get the decals done correctly when all that was required was ten days. I then gave him another seven days to once again comply when I didn’t have to. I just want to see things done the way they are supposed to.”
Statute stipulations! Thompson was ticketed according to the publication of Louisiana Laws Revised Statutes, TITLE 49 – State Administration RS 49:121 – Name of board, department, or subdivisions; marking on boat or vehicle; Louisiana public license plates. Part VI – entitled Identification of Property and the corresponding Sections pertaining to this action are as follows:
Section A states that every boat, watercraft, aircraft, automobile, truck, or other vehicle belonging to the state or any of its political subdivisions shall, if required by law to bear a Louisiana license plate, bear such plate and each such vehicle shall ALSO HAVE INSCRIBED, PAINTED, DECALED, OR STENCILED CONSPICOUSLY THEREON, THE NAME OF THE BOARD, COMMISSION, DEPARTMENT AGENCY, OR SUBDIVISIONS OF THE STATE TO WHICH THE BOAT, WATERCRAFT, AIRCRAFT, AUTOMOBILE OR TRUCK BELONGS. Additional stipulations as to the height, width or circumference also apply.
Section D states that the individual whose responsibility it is to place the purchase order for any vehicle or watercraft as herein provided shall be personally responsible for seeing that the agency name is placed thereon as required and shall do so within ten days after the delivery of such vehicle or watercraft is receipted for and prior to delivery of such vehicle to the person or agency for whom the purchase was made.
Section F states that no officer of the state or any of its political subdivisions shall drive or operate any publically owned land vehicle, air craft or water craft not marked in accordance with the provisions of this Section.
Section G states that the head of any department or board of the state or any of its subdivisions who operates any publicly owned and vehicle, water craft or air craft not marked in accordance with the provisions of this Section shall be guilty of a violation thereof and that each day upon which such a violation is committed shall be considered a separate offense.
Section H states that the Attorney General or any district attorney shall institute such action as is necessary to enforce or insure the enforcement of and compliance with the provisions of this Section.
District Attorney issues letter! On October 12th, District Attorney Daniel Newell issued a letter to Mayor Thompson that was CC’d to: Chief Harris and Town of Jonesboro Aldermen: Nia Evans-Johnson, Robbie Siadek, James Ginn, Devin Flowers and Pete Stringer. A copy of the letter was presented by Mayor Thompson to the Jackson Parish Journal which states:
It has come to my attention that the town of Jonesboro purchased an automobile for the Mayor’s use when pursuing town business. It has also come to my attention that the town-owned automobile has not yet had a permanent insignia inscribed thereon.
L.R.S. 49:121 sets forth the requirement that any automobile owned by a political subdivision must have a proper insignia placed thereon by inscription, paint, decal or stencil. I have been informed that you have chosen to utilize an easily removed magnetic decal. The statute does not provide for the use of magnetic decals. The Attorney General in Opinion 07-0072, thoroughly reviewed the language of the statute and determined that the magnetized decals do not meet the requirements of L.R.S. 49:121. I have attached a copy of the statute and Attorney General Opinion for your review.
The statute mandates in Part H that I institute actions necessary to enforce the statute. This letter shall constitute a demand upon you to, within 7 days of the date of this letter, place the insignias required by law on the vehicle owned by the Town of Jonesboro. If you fail to do so, you will receive citations, will have to appear in court and may be fined $25.00 to $50.00 per day that the vehicle has not had permanent decals, at the Judge’s discretion.
Referenced Attorney General Opinion! Mayor Thompson also presented the Jackson Parish Journal a copy of the referenced Attorney General Opinion #07-0072 that District Attorney Newell cites. This was issued by LA Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell on March 31, 2008, who responded to an inquiry from the Mayor of the Town of Walker on whether or not magnetized decals meet the requirement set for by L.R.S. 49:121.
The letter began with the statement: IT IS THE OPINION OF THIS OFFICE THAT MAGNETIZED DECALS DO NOT MEET THE REQUIREMENTS SET FORTH IN L.R.S.49:121 FOR THE DEMARCATION OF VEHICLES OWNED BY PUBLIC ENTITIES.
Additional information provided that L.R.S. 1:3 states in relevant part that words and phrases shall be read with their context and shall be construed according to the common and approved usage of the language. This is relevant to the Attorney’s General Opinion as the following definition obtained by Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary reads:
DECAL: A picture, design, or label MADE TO BE TRANSFERRED FROM SPECIALLY PREPARED PAPER.
In reply to the letters Mayor Thompson’s stated:
“I appreciate what Chief Harris and District Attorney Newell have done, as in their opinion they are following the letter of the law as they are supposed to do,” said Thompson. “They have followed procedure as prescribed based on an opinion by the Attorney General.”
“That was his opinion though and just that. As has been proven many times over an opinion doesn’t make things concrete. I have my own opinions as to the interpretation of what the Statute reads and I believe I have done no wrong. As result, I have decided to allow this to be brought into court so a true and final verdict can be obtained. If it is then determined that I am in the wrong then I will pay the fine and do as instructed with the decals but I believe that what I have done to meet the requirements are satisfactory.”
The date that Mayor Thompson is scheduled to answer the charge is on December 7th at the Jackson Parish Courthouse in Jonesboro.