Wabasha battles legality of safe driving course - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Wabasha battles legality of safe driving course

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WABASHA, Minn. (KTTC) -- Citizens of Wabasha County are speaking out about the "Safe Driver Program" and its legality, while the County Sheriff's Office and County Attorney say the course is a positive program for the community.

When a driver is pulled over for a minor traffic violation in Wabasha County, they are either issued what is known as a "state uniform traffic ticket" or given the option of taking a safe driving course to expunge the ticket from their record.  It is up to the discretion of the law enforcement officer whether they offer the course to a driver in violation of the law.

Wabasha County Sheriff's Deputy, Brad Modjesky, pulled over a driver violating the speed limit, but let the driver off with a warning.

"With the discretion that we have, a verbal warning with him will get his attention so that he'll slow down and that's ultimately what we want," said Modjesky.

The responsibility of whether to offer the class or not is one responsibility of law enforcement officers that some citizens disagree they should be allowed to hold. The course has been audited for this reason and others since 2004.  The audit describes the violation in terms of "administrative citations"-different than those issued in Wabasha County.  The state has not filed suit against the county for these allegations.

"The discretion is something that is a very good thing because no two cases are identical," said Wabasha County Sheriff, James Nordstrom.  "There may be very good reason to divert a case in one case and not divert a case in another."

"I personally know of a situation where two people were stopped for speeding with identical driving records and one was allowed to take the class and the other was not," said Virginia Kautz, a concerned Wabasha County citizen.  "There's a problem there with uniformity and how it's being run in this county."

Drivers who opt for the program must pay a fee of $125.00.  All funds from the class go directly to the county.  The county's attorney maintains that the funds are all accounted for, audited annually and the records are available to the public.  Commissioner Deb Harms says she is opposed to how the program is currently run.

"Commissioner Harms and I view this as our oath of office," said Wabasha County Commissioner Deb Roschen.  "We have an important responsibility, we're the guardians over our tax dollars.  We need to make sure there's not misappropriations of those funds and so that's why we feel very strongly about this."

According to the County Sheriff, the program has earned the county more than $400,000 much of which has been used to purchase new squad cars and equipment for the Sheriff's Department.

"I can't believe that one of our own, a County Commissioner, would try and stop something that's been so good-so good for our citizens, so good for the Sherriff's office and the fact that we have this positive interaction-that they would try and stop it and bring it down. There's certainly more to the story here than just a safe driving class," said Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsh.

An attorney for the citizens-plaintiffs will be holding a press conference Thursday morning at 10 at the Wabasha County Courthouse.  It is then that the attorney is expected to file the complaint with the county.

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