Town provides cash to Peer Court

Funding appreciated despite controversy
By: Chelsea Foster, Special to the Loomis News
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Loomis stands alone among Placer County communities as a proponent of Peer Court. The Loomis Town Council voted during their Aug. 10 meeting to contribute $7,500 to the cause of keeping young people educated and accountable through the justice system. Peer Court educates local youth on the workings of court and enables young people who have committed offenses to be tried in a court of teen jurors, lawyers and clerks. The program gives students a chance to participate in the justice system and young offenders a chance to be held accountable by a jury of their peers. Peer Court's total funding of $200,000 was reduced by half after the Placer County courts cut the typically allocated $100,000 from their budget. Program coordinator Karen Green sought donations from the community to keep Peer Court going. The town of Loomis was the first among county municipalities to commit to the program, but recent miscommunication resulted in some controversy over the exact amount of the contribution by Loomis. In August 2009, the town agreed to contribute “up to $10,000” to the program, including at least $5,000 from the town in hopes that local service organizations would make contributions to make it a total of $10,000 in donations. At the recent town council meeting, Gree insisted that the council follow through on what she perceived as a commitment to a $10,000 donation from the town directly. "I am concerned that the Peer Court program is suffering the consequences of the town council's failure to act," Green said. Then, councilman Russ Kelley announced that the Loomis Lions, American Legion, and Soroptimist club have agreed to contribute to Peer Court a total of $2,500 in contributions. In light of the local service organizations’ contributions, the town council approved a motion on a 4-to-1 vote to fund $7,500. Kelley supported this decision and said he wished the budget could allow for more. Kelley told Green, "The [youths] you save are worth more than $10,000. I felt very strongly about your commitment and the program's commitment, and I still feel that way.” Changes in the program (including the temporary elimination of the court practicum work experience element to the program, which Green hopes will be reinstated this coming year) were not brought to the council’s attention by Green until the Aug. 10 meeting. Mayor Gary Liss called this lack of communication “bad business” and voted to oppose the increase in funding. “I could not in good conscience vote for more than the $5,000 already committed in our budget as it was far more than our proportionate share, and the program received was not what we originally were asked to support. At the same time, Loomis residents should be proud that our council stood by this program in these difficult times, when no other local communities did,” Liss said. Green’s defensiveness at the beginning of the meeting was stripped away by the town’s generosity. "I am so proud of the community I live in that has stepped up to save this program,” Green said. “If we can keep kids from getting into the traditional court system and getting lost, we will have succeeded." Green indicated that Peer Court received contributions from some other organizations, including ongoing contributions from the Placer County Bar Association and $14,000 from the Superior Court. Other communities like Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln whose youth also benefit from Peer Court have made no contributions, according to Green. In other matters, council decided to address the Heritage Park situation at their next meeting. The large parcel of land, initially intended for subdivision but plagued by development issues, was purchased by the town. Potential plans include a park, lots for housing, or open space.