By on March 7, 2011

Wenatchee, Washington is suing to stop the public from circulating a petition that would thwart the use of red light cameras and speed cameras in the city of 28,000. In March 2009, Wenatchee officials signed a contract with American Traffic Solutions (ATS), and they claimed this agreement would be “impaired” if voters had a say in whether or not the program should continue, according to the complaint filed last Tuesday in a Chelan County court.

“The city seeks a declaration that the proposed Wenatchee Initiative No. 1 is invalid because it is beyond the scope of the initiative power and violates the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution and the Washington State Constitution,” Steve D. Smith, attorney for the city, wrote.

The proposed initiative circulated by, Voters Want More Choices and the Washington chapter of Campaign for Liberty would not nullify the contract between ATS and Wenatchee. Instead, the ballot measure states that the city may not “install or use” automatic ticketing cameras without the prior approval of the voters and a two-thirds vote of the city council. In the event that such approval is given, the cost of a photo ticket would be reduced from the current $124 to an amount of the least expensive parking ticket. Nothing in the initiative prevents Wenatchee from paying ATS the agreed-upon $4800 per intersection monthly fee until the contract’s expiration on March 26, 2014. The city’s argument contends that the public may have no say whatsoever in the use of cameras.

“Washington state law specifically vests the local legislative authority with the power to enact ordinances governing the local government’s use and operation of automated traffic safety camera systems,” Smith wrote. “Proposed Wenatchee Initiative No. 1 would improperly interfere with the exercise of a power delegated by state law to a local legislative authority.”

The latter sentence appeared verbatim in a filing by a law firm hired by ATS in a case that unsuccessfully attempted to block last year’s referendum in Mukilteo where 70 percent of residents imposed limitations on the use of traffic cameras. The judge rejected the arguments of ATS (view judge’s order).

The contract between Wenatchee and ATS contains a general force majeure clause nullifying the contract when performance is prevented by “causes beyond [a party’s] reasonable control and without its fault or negligence.” The document does not, however, contain more specific language found in other contracts that anticipate the possibility of changes in state law prohibiting the use of cameras.

The Chelan County court will be asked to decide whether the initiative would cause an impairment of a contract, or a breach of contract. Federal court precedents have upheld the right of states and other government entities to breach contracts as long as the same damages are paid as would apply if a private party breached the contract.

“The duty to keep a contract at common law means a prediction that you must pay damages if you do not keep it — and nothing else,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1897.


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6 Comments on “Washington City Files Lawsuit to Block Anti-Camera Referendum...”

  • avatar

    Whatever happened to the rule of the people in the US? Have we slipped back into fiefdoms? If you break the people don’t want their government to do what they are doing than the government needs to stop it! If it means breaking a contract that the government made which is against the will of the people than yes damages will be paid. But the government can’t say the people have no right to change their government and the decisions they’ve made.
    Good grief this frustrates me.

    • 0 avatar

      Rule of the people?  Never existed.  We were formed as a constitutional republic with laws to goveern the people enacted by their representatives, subject tothe highest law of the land, the Constitution.  We are supposedly a country based on the Rule of Law.  This prevents a tyranny of the majority.

  • avatar

    Looks like a chance to dis-elect all city officials in 2012!

  • avatar

    Interesting point about the damages…
    If these elected crooks paid them – that would still be out of the taxpayers’ pockets.
    Now if they’d be forced by law to refund the public funds’ losses from their own pockets, that would make them the most conservative/thrifty spenders there are.

  • avatar

    To paraphrase a founding document, the people have the right to change or abolish the govt. But according to Steve D. Smith, the people can’t have a petition against red light cameras, how silly.

  • avatar

    The cities and the camera vendors are terrified of public referendums on ticket cameras because they lose 100% of the time.  Ticket cameras are just a cynical means to make money with improper and/or unethical traffic management policies.  For ticket cameras to produce any significant revenue, the engineering of the posted speed limits and the yellow intervals of the traffic lights must be deliberately done improperly to maximize revenue.  Correctly engineered speed limits and traffic lights maximize safety, but when done that way the cameras go bankrupt.
    Regards, James C. Walker, National Motorists Association,, Ann Arbor, MI

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