The former satellite City of Lakewood, dissolved and incorporated into Metro through a narrow public referendum vote in March, ceased operations with $450,000 in outstanding traffic tickets and related court costs.
As a result, lacking the pertinent government body to pay their fines, hundreds of former Lakewood citizens and others are likely driving with suspended driver’s licenses, putting offenders in line to go to jail if police pull them over.
“It’s a huge mess,” said Metro Councilman Darren Jernigan, who represents the Old Hickory-area that includes Lakewood’s former boundaries.
“There’s people driving around with suspended driver’s licenses right now, and I don’t think they know it,” he said.
In all, at least 1,200 traffic fines weren’t paid, though some offenders likely accumulated multiple fines. Not all violators are Davidson County residents.
Previously, when the city had a municipal charter, Lakewood had its own police force, which enforced individual Lakewood laws and speed limits. Lakewood also collected its own traffic fines. But after the city officially surrendered its charter May 28, there has been no entity to collect the fines.
Metro Department of Law attorney Tom Cross said the issue involves adjudicated tickets that led Lakewood officials to send notice to the state of Tennessee that fines hadn’t been paid. The state has the authority to suspend driver’s licenses.
“Their licenses were suspended,” Cross said. “There’s a whole group of people out there who are kind of in limbo trying to get their licenses back because they can’t go back to Lakewood to pay the fine.”
Under Lakewood’s dissolution, Metro assumed all the satellite city’s assets and liabilities. Metro has the authority to collect the funds that had been owed to Lakewood through fines.
But a resolution sponsored by Jernigan and Sean McGuire, the council’s Budget and Finance Committee chair, would waive the fines and court costs, and disclaim interest Metro could collect from them.
“We were not able to find a clear demonstration that the violations had ever been made part of the Lakewood code,” Cross said. “We spoke with the city attorney, and we spoke to other sources who were available to us. We could never be certain that the fines and fees had all been adopted the way they would have to be in order for us to be comfortable in enforcing them.
“With that discomfort, it is probably not in Metro’s best interest to pursue them,” he said.
Citing advice from the Metro Finance Department, Cross added that the cost to pursue fines –– tracking down out-of-state violators, for example –– would likely exceed the cost in fees.
The council resolution, requiring one vote, goes before the council Oct. 4.