When it comes to the city's agreement with the Missouri Attorney General's office, city officials' opinions are a mixed bag. Most, like Marshfield Police Chief Doug Fannen, are happy to have the matter behind them, but former Mayor Robert Williams disagrees.
Williams was mayor when the case was filed, and it was under his leadership that the city hired an officer solely for traffic patrol.
The AG accused the Marshfield Police Department of having an illegal traffic ticket quota scheme, and the settlement agreement required a policy statement against the practice, as well as a 90-minute training course for police and city officials.
Former Mayor Williams described the agreement as one that he never would have come to with the state, and noted that the city attorney cited his departure as the only real change leading to the accord.
"Of course, it is all just words on paper to allow an eager politician (Attorney General Eric Schmitt) to claim another victory in his effort to be perceived as ‘Defender of the People, which is really just his continued assault on rural communities and law enforcement agencies in an effort to climb the political ladder," Williams said.
He added, "It seems popular (at least these days) to appear to be anti-law enforcement. In my view, he does it well. In reality, every board member, mayor, and police officer knows there is no established citation quota policy in Marshfield."
Williams defended the analysis performed under his administration that suggested a traffic officer position would pay for itself through its enforcement activities.
"Doing a cost/benefit analysis when hiring a new position would generally be considered wise, regardless of the position," Williams said. "It only becomes suspect when someone has predetermined that a quota policy exists and then goes looking for ways to prove it, but it is not proof of anything more than good stewardship."
Added Williams, "Yes, there was conversation about citations at the finance committee level for budgeting. In the end, only the expense was budgeted. No revenue or expected revenue was even built into the budget regarding the traffic officer."
Williams gave credit to the city’s Board of Aldermen. "I want to acknowledge that the aldermen were backed into a corner by an over reaching AG," he said. "If left to me, I would have fought the battle. The AG is doing a huge disservice to rural communities with this approach. One would think he would simply send a letter or pay a visit to assist cities to address areas of concern and leave legal action as a last resort. That did not happen here. In fact, to this day I have never been approached or interviewed by his office.”
He added, "One challenge with settling is that it gives him the bully pulpit to claim victory over yet another oppressive city police department, and nobody wants to hear from the little guy that conceded. The lawsuit may have been lost for several reasons. It really is stacked in favor of the AG, but when you concede, you lose your voice."
Marshfield Police Chief Doug Fannen expressed the The Mail that he is very happy to have the matter behind him, but he is adamant that neither he nor his officers would ever stand for breaking the law.
"The public will believe our actions," Chief Fannen said. "That is not how we operate."
Fannen recalls feeling a little hurt initially when the news hit. "He came in so strong with such a nasty news release," Fannen said of the AG. "Now, it’s tamed down, and we’ve got to go to 90 minutes of training."
Fannen said that those who have dealings with his department know how he and his officers operate.
He added that the public was very supportive when the news initially broke.
“As an officer, you have to have integrity, morals, the ability to stand up for what’s right," he said. "It hurt my feelings that anyone would question that."
An internet search of the Marshfield Police Department and Fannen himself will reveal numerous stories about the quota allegation, and it's a bad look for the city, Fannen notes. "I don’t care what people think in Kansas City, St. Louis, Joplin — I care what they think of me in Marshfield, and what they think of the police department."
Fannen shared some figures from his department's enforcement efforts over a three-year period, and he believes that they vindicate him and his officers.
In 2017, the Marshfield Police Department issued 1,377 summons, and only 340 of those were for moving violations. In 2018, the year Marshfield was named the 24th safest city in the state (and also the year that all police cars were equipped with radar devices), officers issued 2,342 summons, and only 616 were for moving violations. And in 2019, 3,284 summons were issued, and only 645 were for moving violations.
CORRECTION: In an Aug. 26 hearing where the consent agreement was filed between the city and the state, counsel for the AG’s office incorrectly stated that the Webster County Sheriff would have to attend the 90-minute training that the parties agreed to. The Sheriff's Office has nothing to do with the lawsuit.