The Town of Smyrna’s General Sessions Court is losing money and Smyrna Town Manager Brian Hercules recently ordered an internal audit to determine the reason why revenue is dropping and expenses are increasing.
In previous years, the Smyrna Town Court generated revenue that basically covered its expenses; in recent years it is now operating at a loss in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The town’s General Sessions Court had revenues $129,612 above its expenses in its first year (2009). Every year for the past seven years, the revenue has generally dropped, with the court having a $151,165 deficit in 2018.
Hercules reported three options to Town of Smyrna leadership: leave the Court as it currently operates; implement changes conduct a follow-up review in a year; or move the General Sessions Court services to Rutherford County, a transfer that would require amending in the town charter with approval from the state legislature.
David Fielder of the Town of Smyrna’s Information Services Department conducted interviews with personnel of the three elements of the General Sessions Court: the Judicial office, led by Judge Lynn Alexander; the Court Clerk’s office, led by Attorney Brittany Stevens; and the Probation office, a contracted function currently operated by Tennessee Court Services, LLC.
“The purpose of the (audit) is to ensure the Town’s General Session Court remains a viable solution for the Town of Smyrna and its citizens,” Hercules said. “The Town does not operate the General Sessions Court to make money, but it cannot provide an inefficient service to the citizens of the Town that operates continually at a loss.
“The Court Clerk and Judicial Department should be viewed as any other department in the Town. It is not a profit center, but a provider of services.”
Hercules said that estimates show that approximately half of the Smyrna Court services are being provided to criminal defendants who are not Smyrna residents.
According to Hercules, the audit also determined that there is a blurred management structure between the three offices; there are redundancies in duties between the Judicial office and the Court Clerk’s office; the court information systems software is inadequate and lacks accounting and reporting capabilities; there is a lack of training for a key software system, resulting in the system being misused or not used at all; and there are multiple inconsistencies and discrepancies in the Probation office’s data and the Court Clerk’s Office records.
Hercules proposed creating a position for a “Payment and Court Date Reminder” function; Adding four Judicial Commissioners to assist with weekend on-call rotation; Extending office hours to 5:30 p.m. daily to increase access; and implement new computer software to assist with collections and the tracking of payments.
SMYRNA COURT REVENUES
Net revenue each year for Smyrna’s General Sessions Court since it was created in 2009 (numbers in parentheses are losses):
2009 - $129,612
2010 - $123,557
2011 - $44,220
2012 – ($91,466)
2013 – ($38,017)
2014 – ($67,287)
2015 - ($13,943)
2016 - ($157,176)
2017 - ($173,745)
2018 - ($151,165)