“Speed Trap Town”: Louisiana Village Raises Over $1 Million in Traffic Ticket Revenue
Fenton, a minuscule town in Louisiana with a population of just 226 residents, has stirred controversy by amassing over $1 million in a single year through fines and forfeitures, primarily from traffic tickets.
This remarkable revenue places Fenton on par with Louisiana’s third-largest city, Shreveport, despite having a population nearly nine times smaller.
The Surprising Numbers
In June 2022, Fenton generated a staggering $1.3 million through fines and forfeitures, a sum equivalent to the revenue of Shreveport, which is home to 187,000 people.
Audits revealed that the majority of this income came from traffic tickets, surpassing collections by almost any other municipality in Louisiana.
Mayor’s Dual Role Raises Questions
The unique aspect of Fenton’s operation lies in the dual role of its mayor, Eddie Alfred, Jr. Not only is Mayor Alfred responsible for the town’s finances, but he also serves as the town’s judge. This dual responsibility places him in charge of the ‘mayor’s court,’ where he oversees the processing of thousands of speeding tickets issued annually by the Fenton police department.
Those contesting tickets or fines in Fenton find themselves appealing directly to Mayor Alfred, who, as the judge, appoints prosecutors and determines the guilt or innocence of drivers requesting a trial.
The fines collected through the mayor’s court reportedly contribute to the salaries of key town personnel, including the mayor and the clerk.
Attempts to understand the inner workings of Fenton’s court system faced challenges as journalists from WVUE-TV and ProPublica made multiple visits to the town.
Despite reviewing court files, meeting minutes, ordinances, and body camera videos, clarity on the court’s operations proved elusive. Conflicting explanations were provided by officials, raising questions about accountability and adherence to legal guidelines.
Legal experts, including Joel Friedman of Tulane University, expressed concerns about the lack of accountability in Fenton’s court system.
The unusual arrangement of having the mayor preside over court proceedings, particularly in cases involving minor criminal offenses and fines, raised eyebrows and prompted calls for a reevaluation of the town’s practices.
Calls for Reevaluation
Critics argue that allowing the mayor to oversee the court may lead to potential conflicts of interest and a lack of impartiality. As the village attorney, Mike Holmes, asserts that Mayor Alfred presides over court in a ‘neutral, impartial manner,’ questions persist about the transparency and fairness of Fenton’s legal proceedings.