A red light camera company and officials in the city of Baytown, Texas are conspiring to nullify the results of an election. In November, 58 percent of voters approved a ballot measure prohibiting the use of red light cameras unless a police officer is present to witness any alleged offense. American Traffic Solutions (ATS) filed suit in February to overturn the result of this vote, and city officials on September 22 asked Harris County Judge Michael D. Miller to sign off on a settlement of this suit that was prepared by ATS.
“The court, after considering the agreed statement of facts and applicable law, is of the opinion that the contested election held on November 2, 2010 for the approval or rejection of a proposed initiative, related to Baytown’s automated photographic traffic signal enforcement program, was an election on an untimely referendum and, therefore, void,” stated the proposed judgment drafted by ATS attorney Andy Taylor and signed by Baytown City Attorney Ignacio Ramirez. “It is therefore ordered, adjudged and decreed that the results of the special election are hereby declared void and without any legal effect for all purposes.”
Judge Miller has yet to indicate whether he will accept the settlement struck between ATS and Baytown. Byron Schirmbeck, author of the initiative petition as director of saferbaytown.com, is hoping he does not. Schirmbeck points out that unlike other anti-camera ballot measures, the one approved by Baytown voters was clearly not a referendum. Baytown’s red light camera ordinance was not repealed, and the city is free to use automated ticketing machines — so long as a police officer witnesses each alleged offense. Baytown dropped the program rather than incur the cost involved in complying with the terms of the ballot measure.
“Baytown city council has no right to sell our election to a corrupt corporation to protect them against further actions of the people,” Schirmbeck told TheNewspaper. “This is a slap in the face to the people’s right to self govern.”
ATS had been so desperate to nullify the election that it spent over $140,000 to block it at various stages. The Arizona company went so far as to file court briefs citing the 1965 Voting Rights Act to charge photo enforcement program opponents as anti-black racists, even though analysis of precinct voting patterns in Houston showed that black neighborhoods were more opposed to cameras than white neighborhoods.
Judge Miller, a Democrat, won his election in 2008 with just 51 percent of the vote. He is up for re-election next year.