$1 million in old fines go 'public'

Staff Writer

After months of threatening, talking nicely and even making some arrests, West Point is turning to embarrassment to try to collect or clean up old lists of about $1 million in old fines owed by as many as 1,500 people.

The city posted more than 40 pages of names, charges, fine amounts and original dates on the Police Department’s Facebook page Saturday. People’s whose names are on the list have until Feb. 22 to pay up, make arrangements to pay or show proof why they shouldn’t. If arrangements aren’t made by that day, the people need to show up in court or police will start arresting them.

Some of them date back a decade, others just a few months. Some amount to just a few dollars, others run in the hundreds.

“Judge Cliett wanted it done to see what happens,” City Court Clerk Monica Lairy said, referring to Judge Mark Cliett.

Phones in the clerk’s office were ring steadily Monday with people calling with excuses and questions. Some were coming in and paying or told clerks they were planning to come to court to get a payment plan.

“It’s been about what we expected. People have been calling to say they thought it was paid or thought it was taken care of or using fake names and asking for someone to see if their name is on the list,” Lairy continued.

The clerk said the city didn’t start out with a goal or have any idea how much might come in.

“We just thought we would see. But some money is coming in,” she stated.

Paying up now or setting up a payment plan could avoid embarrassment of being arrested. And it helps the city.

"We want others to know what they are costing the city. Collecting even a small part of it can make a big difference," Mayor Robbie Robinson said.

Many of the names on the list have West Point addresses. But they also are from all over North Mississippi and beyond, stretching from Birmingham, Ala. to Chicago, Ill.

Other cities and counties have had some success with publishing names. The publicity not only gets the person in trouble but also often is news to relatives and employers.

For citizens, the posting brought a mixed bag.

“I wish they’d found a better way to do it. This could cause some people some problems,” said April Whittenburg.

“If that’s what it takes, so be it. They should have paid before. You can tell from the list people have had a chance. Think of all the people who have paid in the past,” countered Deanna Persons.

“It’s public record so make it public. If it works, great. Maybe we should do it once a year now,” added Ben Ferguson.