Texas Cities Shut Down Cameras After Public Vote
Red light cameras are no longer issuing tickets to motorists in America’s fourth-largest city. The Houston, Texas city council on Monday canvassed the results of the November 2 vote and ordered the cameras unplugged. In the nearby city of Baytown, red light cameras will be disabled at midnight on November 26.
“The voting public has spoken,” Houston City Attorney David M. Feldman wrote Monday in a letter to Jim Tuton, CEO of the camera contractor American Traffic Solutions (ATS). “Houston must follow the mandate of the electorate. Houston hereby terminates its contract with ATS. This termination is effective immediately. ATS is required to turn off all red light cameras installed and/or monitored by reason of the contract and ATS is to do so immediately.”
ATS is upset, and wants financial compensation, because the city terminated the ticketing contract before its 2014 expiration date. Given the massive amount of revenue generated by the program — $17,760,900 worth of tickets were mailed in 2009 — Houston Mayor Annise Parker initially attempted to ignore the results of the vote and to keep issuing tickets for another four months to cover the damages to ATS. It eventually became clear that Parker lacked the votes on the council for this option. On Monday, she filed suit in federal court against ATS.
“Houston… requests this court, after consideration, to declare the rights and obligations of the parties under the express terms of the contract,” Feldman wrote in the brief to the court. “Specifically, a controversy has arisen between Houston and ATS with respect to the interpretation of certain terms and conditions of the contract and parties’ rights and obligations with regard to termination of the contract in light of the results of the election on the Proposition 3 measure.”
For its part, ATS has pledged in public to cooperate fully while vowing to pursue the “difference of opinion” regarding the city’s contract termination payment obligation. US District Court for the Southern District of Texas Judge Lynn N. Hughes has scheduled a pretrial conference on the matter for February 7, 2011.
After Baytown shuts down its cameras next week, all of the photo enforcement elections for the year will be complete. Officials in Garfield Heights, Ohio shut down cameras immediately after seeing the will of the voters. Anaheim, California; Mukilteo, Washington and Sykesville, Maryland had cameras blocked before they could be installed (Anaheim’s referendum was sponsored by the mayor and city council who wanted to prevent future administrations from installing the devices). The relatively quick resolution of the 2010 elections contrasts sharply the attempt ATS made last year to have a judge cancel the red light camera ban. The victory proved Pyrrhic as the city’s politicians wanted nothing to do with a program soundly rejected at the ballot box.
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I don't blame ATS as much as I blame elected officials for the shell game they continue to try to play on those that elected them. The only hope here is that the voters that chose to boot ATS would also boot those officials that allowed it in, we can call it progress. Till then, it's just on to the next revenue generating scheme a la Chicago's selling of parking meters. Still, a victory is a victory. If anyone from ATS happens to be reading this, please know that I cheer your defeat. Go play in traffic, preferably traffic near one of your cameras.
What paper tigers city hall and TSA turn out to be when they get corrected by the ballot box and public outcry. Hopefully, similar ballot initiatives will be used in other localities.