Nov. 5 2008 12:00 AM

A Councilwoman is caught speeding and handed a ticket at the mayor’s request. What?


What’s worse than getting two points on your drivers’ license and a $115 fine for speeding?

Getting stopped at the direction of Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

Say, what?

That’s the problem At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar ran into recently when she was pulled over for speeding in the Moores Park area.

Here’s what Dunbar and Lansing motorcycle patrol officer John Prince told Lansing Traffic Court Magistrate Laura Millmore when they appeared in court two Tuesdays ago over the ticket:

Dunbar said she was driving down West Barnes Avenue at 7:50 a.m. on Sept. 25, taking her four kids to school. She passed St. Casimir School, noticing six Lansing police officers sitting on motorcycles in the parking lot. She waved to them.

Next thing she knew, at the corner of Barnes and Bradley avenues, one of the cops she’d just seen was pulling her over. Prince approached the car.

“I’m stopping you at the mayor’s request,” she told Millmore that Prince said. “He actually wrote that on the ticket,” Dunbar said.

Prince explained to Millmore that his radar gun had clocked Dunbar at 32 mph in a 25 mph zone. He wrote on the bottom of the ticket, “requested by the mayor” — what he told Millmore is standard procedure when a request comes from a specific source.

Prince showed the magistrate an earlier e-mail from the state police requesting traffic monitoring on West Ottawa. He had written on the ensuing tickets “requested by MSP,” he said. He said he was unable to find the e-mail memo directing the officers to patrol Barnes.

Capt. Ray Hall, who oversees Curtis and Prince, said Prince’s conduct is under review. It is department policy for officers to keep notes on traffic stops, including complaints that might have led to them, but those notes are never to be viewed by the motorist at the time of the citation. Motorists may file freedom of information requests to view an officer’s notes later, Hall said.

“Review” of an officer may result in a range of reactions, from a request simply for the officer to modify behavior to the furthest extreme of termination, he said. The outcome of Prince’s case is expected in two to three weeks.

Dunbar told the magistrate she later called Sgt. Leith Curtis, head of the Lansing police motorcycle division, to ask why the mayor’s name would be invoked in a traffic stop.

“We got the directive from the chief (Mark Alley). But everyone knows where it came from,” she said Curtis told her.

The mayor’s office did not return calls seeking comment.

Dunbar said she talked with Curtis for an hour and that Prince had been “spoken to." Dunbar asked to see other tickets that had been written that day. Curtis did not produce the tickets but said that “requested by the mayor” had not been written on any of the others.

Prince told Millmore he’d written those four words on all the tickets he had written the previous day.

Dunbar also told Millmore that Curtis had told her there had been a number of break-ins in the Moores Park area, and people were walking out of homes with people’s belongings. Curtis told her the mayor had asked the motorcycle police to be diverted from traffic patrol on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, to establish a presence in the Barnes area.

The magistrate’s response?

“My authority is in assessing if a violation has occurred,” she said. She found Dunbar guilty of speeding, with seven days to appeal and 30 days to pay the fine.

Following the hearing, Dunbar had this to say:

“I have no problem paying the fine if I was speeding. But I am offended by the way it was handled. If people are getting a ticket, they should be told they are breaking the law, not that they are being stopped because the mayor wants it.”

But she added: “It’s ironic this happened the day after (Fourth Ward Councilman) Tim Kaltenbach and I said in the Committee of the Whole meeting that we can’t continue to hold the Police and Fire departments harmless in our budget difficulties.” They weren’t suggesting cutting road officers, but perhaps looking at sharing services, or leaving positions unfilled, but they may have been misunderstood, she mused.

“Or it could be completely unrelated,” she said.