Community 
program takes off

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Program helps residents satisfy fines, better 
communities

Seligman and Barry County residents who owe fines for traffic violations or other miscellaneous charges, or who just do not have the ability to pay, may now have the option to complete community service, and at the same time, help out their community.

Terry Burgess, Seligman police chief, said a community service program has been in force for about three months now within the city of Seligman. But, it is not just for Seligman residents, as Barry County residents may also participate, and Burgess hoping the concept will spread to nearby cities so that workers can give back to their respective communities.

Workers show up on a Saturday morning and put in eight hours on community-service-related projects like picking up trash along the highway and in the city, painting, or whatever is needed.

Recently, workers gave Seligman's community center, which is used for celebrations and dances, a fresh coat of paint, updating the frequently-used public venue.

"The community service could be for anything from traffic violations to drug possession, [or] really any charge they could get in the city," Burgess said. "Most of the people have had fines that have been outstanding for awhile, so this is an alternative to paying a fine, and some people get a fine and community service."

Burgess said they generally have about seven to 10 people show up to complete projects, and members of the city's police department supervise the workers. Last Saturday, workers picked up over 50 bags of trash along Highway 37 through town.

"We've had a really good turnout each time," said Brian Nichols, Seligman city clerk. "Anyone whose been given community service can come over and put in eight hours on a Saturday. We provide water and transportation to and from the work site and safety vests. It's going around and picking up trash, cleaning up the parks and city, primarily."

A few months ago, Burgess said he started thinking of ways to resolve outstanding fines and using community service as a means to do it. He contacted Larry Stockton, probation and parole officer for Barry County, who was also looking for a place where his parolees could complete community service in their own communities without having to travel far.

"I tried to solve a need in the sense that people were having trouble, number one, paying fines, and my initial thoughts were the highway cleanups, because it's hard to get people to go out and do that," Burgess said. "So, I figured by starting that and allowing people to do community service, it would kill two birds with one stone, would clear up some of the books with fines, and help clean up the community.

"I think it's gone well. People have certainly noticed. We've gotten a lot of positive feedback. This is where my kids are going to grow up, so I want it to be nice for them. It's such a positive thing for the community."

"We have several people who, as a condition of their probation, have to do a certain amount of community service hours," Stockton said. "I called Chief Burgess and talked to him about some people we were having a harder time finding places to do community service for, and he has, through the city of Seligman, put a plan in place to help people who were assigned community service. He volunteered that he and his officers would also supervise the probation and parole clients that needed to do community service and that's how that came about.

"I think it's a good opportunity to give back to the area where the people live, and where they don't have to go to Monett or Shell Knob, because a lot of people on probation have a hard time finding transportation, and they're more likely to show up if we can find a project in their neighborhood. It really helps them, and I really appreciate Chief Burgess making this available."

Along those lines, Burgess would like to see the program expand to surrounding communities like Cassville and Exeter.

"I'd like to do an alternating rotation between cities," he said. "That part hasn't taken off yet. We could volunteer an officer to help supervise his workers in another city and let our people know you can go up there and get some hours, and likewise in Seligman, and we can get more accomplished in the time frame.

"There's only so many times we can walk down the highway and pick up trash, but there are projects in the cities we can utilize people for. We're trying to spread it out so we don't make it hard for workers to get to their areas to do community service."

The city of Exeter had recently discussed implementing a community service program, but did not move forward with the idea because they would have no one to supervise workers, Mayor Rusty Reed said.

To have a community service program, someone must be available to supervise workers, and Burgess' idea of essentially swapping officers, may be the missing piece to bring it about in surrounding communities like Exeter and Cassville.

Burgess said accomplishing that goal is just a matter of logistics; figuring out dates and times that each agency wants to participate and can donate officers.

"I think we can benefit each other mutually," he said.

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