June 15 2017 03:27 PM

Councilwoman facing arrest over ticket gets relief from city attorney

When Lansing City Councilwoman Tina Houghton opened the screenshot from her nephew last month, the last thing she expected to see was her name on a list of people with warrants for their arrest.

But there it was. The warrant was issued May 2 after she failed to appear for a hearing before Judge Patrick Cherry of 54-A District Court. That hearing was for her to explain why she had not paid the fine for an expired parking meter ticket she received on Nov. 10.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. She called the city attorney, James Smiertka, “and asked him what it was all about.”

Smiertka said he ordered the warrant quashed and set up a new hearing. He said it was one of three responses any citizen in the same boat may receive who contacts his office.. Another is to escort the person to court for immediate arraignment and to pay the ticket off. The third is do nothing.

He said his office was asked only “the procedure to respond,” and after reviewing Houghton’s file determined the quash and hearing were appropriate.

But one of Houghton’s colleagues on the Council is calling foul.

“Our relationship with the city attorney is on a professional basis with what we do with Council,” said Carol Wood. She said the Council needs to discuss whether there was an ethical violation.

Council President Patricia Spitzley nixed that in an interview Tuesday morning.

“I don’t know that there is a role for Council,” she said. “I think Tina wishes she had paid her parking ticket. I know I wish she had paid her parking ticket. And that’s all I am going to say about that.”

Houghton said she doesn’t understand how it was an issue. She noted Smiertka was the first person she thought to call.

As for Smierkta, he said his office handles about 2,100 criminal and civil warrants a year.

“This was handled in the same manner as if any other person had contacted our office with the same query,” Smiertka wrote in an email Monday.

But he was unable to furnish any data to show the office had done so for other citizens.

“Our office does not maintain records specifically on motions to quash civil arrest warrants because no records exist of which method is utilized,” he wrote. “Each case is different based upon the circumstances.”

He acknowledged that an “oral survey” of staff in the office revealed no other Council members had sought action in relation to a parking ticket since he was appointed city attorney last year.

Houghton was in court Monday, where she “claimed full responsibility,” and paid her $90 fine and fees.