Below is a copy of a citation issued in DeKalb last spring for the ordinance violation of “Fighting within the City.” According to a file obtained via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the person connected to the violation ended up owing the city $1,147.50 for this violation and was sent to collections.303779-for-publishing
I asked for citations, notices, and orders. I did not receive notices. When I emailed about the missing Notices of Hearing, the FOIA officer wrote me that the violation notice (citation) and hearing notice are the same thing. This is a problem right off the bat — if this person did try to go to the hearing, they showed up at an address that hasn’t been used for hearings for more than two years. A separate Notice of Hearing likely would have contained a different address and provided a chance to fix the mistake.
What’s more, Chapter 17 of the city code says a Notice of Violation and a Notice of Hearing are different documents. That’s because the Notice of Hearing is supposed to contain information about the consequences of being found liable for the violation. In other words, it’s important due process — and a step the city evidently has decided to skip.
Due process such as: You can see on the citation the checked box that a personal appearance at the hearing is not required for an allegation of fighting. What’s missing there is a warning that if you don’t pay $300 before the hearing date AND you don’t show up to the hearing, the default is the maximum fine of $750 plus $100 in hearing costs. Then, if you can’t pay the $850 within 35 days of the judgment, they slap 35% on top and you deal with the collections agency, with all the troubles such debt entails.
I’ve looked at 44 of these cases so far — all adults* — and 28 of them went to collections. How many of the 28 might have gone into debt because DeKalb no longer provides essential information about what the penalties are and how to avoid them?
City Barbs: Children as city revenue sources
*This request asked for information connected to 113 citations, identified only by number in aggregated reports obtained from an earlier request that included case statuses and fines owed for fighting, battery, and disorderly conduct during the period of August 1, 2021, through May 25, 2022. I received 44 files, 37 of which are case records that started with citations issued in the Annie Glidden North area of DeKalb where some of our poorest residents live. The city withheld 69 other case files presumably denied using a FOIA exemption for juvenile records, though I have extracted what information I can from the aggregate reports. For sure I’ll be posting more using the data.