Thursday, 03/09/06
Coopertown takes check that dubbed it 'speed trap'

City's refusal of payment from motorist is resolved

Staff Writer

COOPERTOWN A Nashville man's standoff with the administration of this small Robertson County town over his speeding ticket apparently fizzled out yesterday.

T. Allen Morgan got the $149.50 ticket last month and later mailed the city a check to cover it along with a little written commentary added about Coopertown's ticketing practices.

But the town's mayor refused the check because Morgan had written "for speed trap" on its subject line. Morgan initially was told he would have to write a new check without any comments or appear in court.

Yesterday, just hours before he was scheduled for a court appearance, Morgan said a city official called him to say the check he wrote would be accepted after all.

"I'm satisfied that it's over," Morgan said yesterday afternoon, after learning he wouldn't have to go to court.

"It's an abuse of power," he said. "I'm completely in the right on this.

"The whole issue is they can't tell me what I can and cannot say on a check. They can't tell me what I can and cannot say in a note. They can't tell me what I can and cannot say in public.

"My intent was simply to make a point. The point is the mayor cannot tell me what I can and cannot say. Nobody can."

The dispute launched a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe into the manner in which Morgan's payment was handled. A TBI official said the agency was looking into whether the city's refusal to accept it constituted a criminal act.

Earlier in the week, Coopertown Mayor Danny Crosby said the city wouldn't accept Morgan's check because doing so would amount to an admission that the city does, in fact, run a speed trap an accusation the mayor has steadfastly denied.

"I'm not going to accept a check with (that) on it," Crosby said in an interview Tuesday. "That gentleman thought he was making a point. He wasn't."

Crosby said he asked a clerk to tell Morgan the check wouldn't be accepted after he saw the words "for speed trap" written on it.

Morgan's name was never called during traffic court yesterday at 5 p.m., Morgan's appointed court time. After court, City Judge Earl Porter confirmed that his name had been taken off the docket and that his ticket was considered paid. The mayor wouldn't comment on the status of Morgan's ticket yesterday, after Morgan said he had been told he wouldn't have to pay it.

Morgan said he got the ticket last month on Highway 49 near Interstate 24, where the speed limit is 35 mph. He was ticketed for doing 50 in a 35 mph zone. He said he never saw a sign indicating the 35 mph speed limit, which made him suspicious of police there. Then he saw media reports about Coopertown's reputation for ticketing speeders.

"That just confirmed my suspicions and made me angry," Morgan said.

Along with his ticket payment, Morgan sent the city a letter saying the city would never get another dime of his money.

He said he was shopping for a possible home site when he was pulled over. His letter also called the town a speed trap, an accusation he stands by today.

Coopertown and its police received nationwide attention after the national motorist group AAA announced it was considering adding the town to a short list of areas known for their strict traffic enforcement habits. AAA's concerns included the fact that speed limits on Highway 49 have changed multiple times in the last year, and that Coopertown officers patrol Interstate 24 looking for speeders.

The mayor implemented two speed limit changes, one last August and another in January, without votes from the town's Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

AAA officials have said it is possible the town could become the organization's third "Traffic Trap" a designation reserved for cities that unfairly target drivers to raise money through traffic citations. Organization officials said they first started looking at the town after receiving complaints from local residents. Crosby and others in city government, including Judge Porter, have taken issue with those accusations.

During yesterday's 5 p.m. court session, charges against several motorists charged with failure to produce proof of insurance or vehicle registration were dismissed after those drivers proved that they had those documents. All of those who chose to challenge their tickets during the session had been clocked at at least 10 mph over the posted speed limit.

"If I was only interested in money, I'd have socked it to a lot more of them than I did," Porter said after court. "We're more interested in compliance than we are in money."