ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County District Attorney Julie Garcia is recommending that the position of Stop DWI coordinator become full-time as it was more than a decade ago.
Since that time, the duties of the position have been assigned to Essex County Clerk Joe Provoncha, but Garcia said Provoncha juggles many job titles and said the post deserves the full-time attention of one person.
Addressing the members of the county public safety committee Monday, March 9, Garcia also questioned if Provoncha's position as commissioner of jurors might be in conflict with his job as Stop DWI coordinator.
As an example, Garcia said Provoncha accepts money from fines paid by DWI prosecution and then determines how that money should be spent to curb impaired driving and under-age drinking.
The question sparked a long debate among the supervisors, some of whom were concerned that the discussion might make it look as if Provoncha was doing something improper or an inadequate job.
"It seems careless to toss Joe's name around this room, as if he's doing anything wrong or caused a conflict of interest," said St. Armand Supervisor Joyce Morency.
Other supervisors, however, were quick to blame the system and not the person.
"We are the ones who assigned him all these titles," Moriah Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava said. "Joe does an excellent job, but you need to have transparency in government."
"Clearly this isn't personal," she said. "When we become uncomfortable asking questions, I think government suffers. Government's not always comfortable."
County Manager Dan Palmer said there is pressure to accomplish as much work as possible with as little tax dollars as possible, which is why Provoncha ended up wearing so many hats.
Besides stop DWI coordinator and commissioner of jurors, Provoncha also serves as deputy county manager, and director of the youth bureau, traffic safety and parks and recreation.
But Garcia said a full-time stop DWI coordinator would be funded by fines collected from DWIs - a number she sees increasing dramatically this year because of a change in her office's DWI policy.
That change includes denying a plea bargain to anyone arrested with a blood alcohol content above .10. In the past, more than half of those cases were reduced, a sentence that carried less of a fine.
"In the past six years we've collected nearly $1 million in fees," Garcia said. "If this goes the way I think it will, we may be collecting that much in just the next three years."
Garcia said she hopes the reduced number of plea-bargains will act as a deterrent. That, coupled with new programs and initiatives overseen by a full-time stop DWI coordinator will hopefully decrease the number of impaired drivers on local roadways and curb underage drinking and drug use, she said.
Organizing a victim impact panel made up of victims or survivors from around the county who would share their experiences with others is an example, Garcia said.
"We are one of the only counties that does not have a victim impact panel," Garcia said. "A coordinator could help establish that."
Garcia said it is critical the county look at reducing under-age substance abuse and impaired driving - a number that has remained fairly steady.
"We need to be doing all we can to stop people from dying in Essex County," she said.
Reached for comment Monday, Provoncha said he and Palmer are investigating the issue and said Palmer is working on a report for the board on their findings.
In the meantime, Garcia said the county attorney can request a formal opinion from the attorney general on the potential conflict between holding the titles of Stop DWI coordinator and commissioner of jurors.