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City court to address staffing shortage

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 25, 2017

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Good help is hard to find and can be even harder to keep.

That’s something the Grosse Pointe City Municipal Court has learned. Russell Ethridge, who has served as the city’s elected municipal court judge for the last 19 years, made a case recently for again having a full-time court administrator — something the City hasn’t had since its previous full-time court administrator left in 2010.

Since then, City Manager Pete Dame said the community has had “an experienced part-time contractor” and two part-time court employees, a move that was only intended as temporary and a way for the City to save money after the collapse of the housing market and the subsequent recession that slashed property tax revenues.

During a presentation to the City Council, Dec. 19, Ethridge said a previous court administrator “was lured away” by another city because of compensation, and finding qualified employees was an ongoing challenge. That was one of the major reasons why he was asking the council to not only allow the court to again have a full-time court administrator — at a salary range of $48,734 to $61,345 — but also to hire two part-time court employees at a pay rate of $15 per hour instead of $12 per hour, which is what the City had been paying as a starting rate.

The salary range for the court administrator is in keeping with regional standards, officials said.

“The fact is, we are the smallest court in the state, but we are still a court,” Ethridge said.

Ethridge said the court was “very short-staffed at the moment,” but it has a multitude of responsibilities, including meeting increasingly stringent state standards and filing monthly and quarterly reports.

“We’re a great court,” Ethridge said. “We do a good job. But we are very limited in our resources.”

In addition, he said, the court needs at least one certified court reporter from the two part-time staffers who can be available outside of regular court hours, as suspects sometimes need to be arraigned on an evening or weekend.

The City’s municipal court is no longer just a place where a local youngster faces a minor traffic ticket, he said.

“We are going to see increasing demands on our court,” Ethridge said. “This is serious business. … We have a different patient population, and it is a challenging patient population.”

At least one staffer is needed at the desk whenever City Hall is open as well, he said.

The council agreed, voting unanimously in favor of hiring a full-time court administrator and two part-time court employees at the recommended pay rates.

Dame said that although this expenditure wasn’t in the 2016-17 budget, the court’s revenues for 2015-16 “exceeded budgeted amounts significantly,” and the court was on track this year to do the same. The additional cost for the administrator and part-time staffer are projected to cost the City another $37,500, and Dame said the court is expected to have a surplus of about $37,500 for the current fiscal year, which would mean that the new hires essentially wouldn’t impose any additional burden on the City.

At press time, the City was still seeking candidates to fill these positions with the court. Applications for these jobs can be found under the Municipal Court section on the City’s website, www.grossepointecity.org.