By on August 3, 2011

Hundreds of Houston, Texas residents swarmed the city council chambers yesterday to complain about the reactivation of red light cameras. Voters in November enacted a charter amendment banning the use of automated ticketing machines, but a federal judge worked with the city attorney and vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to nullify the election so that the cameras could come back.

“Ever since I was a little kid I was told this was the greatest nation in the world and it was great because I had a vote and my vote counted,” resident Terry Dry said. “It appears my vote does not. I’m asking y’all as our elected leaders, we voted. Turn them off. And if you’re not going to do that, I would like to know where each council member stands on the issue so that we can get some people in here who will do the people’s will in the next election.”

The audience broke out into boisterous applause until Mayor Annise Parker interrupted.

“We do not allow displays like that in this chamber, and the police will clear the chamber if we cannot have order,” Parker said. “We have a process and we’re going to hear from every one of you…. I personally believe they say lives. I get the whole thing about the vote.”

Parker insisted the city legal team was fighting as hard as it can to uphold the will of the voters, but given the city’s budget deficit, she had no choice but to reactivate the system. ATS had threatened to sue for $20 million if the cameras were not reactivated, but some residents questioned Parker’s claims.

“I’d love to see a jury that would give that verdict,” local attorney Eric Dick said. “Why are we looking to expand the cameras if our intention is to turn them off? The case is on appeal. Are we going to refund the money if the city loses the appeal for the cameras? I think it’s just crazy what we’re doing.”

Councilman Jolanda Jones agreed with many of the speakers and pointed out that Parker acted on her own in reactivating the cameras. The mayor refused Jones’ request to allow the council to vote on whether to respect the November election results.

“This is no longer a legal issue,” initiative co-sponsor Paul Kubosh said. “You can hide behind whatever federal judge you want. It does not matter. This is now a political issue. This body is in danger of losing this issue. Let me make sure that you folks understand. This will never go away, and we’re not going to wait until 2014.”

The Kubosh brothers said they intended to file another charter amendment that would remove the thirty-day time limit for the filing of a referendum. They may also weaken the position of mayor by allowing two councilmen to place items on the city council agenda.


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18 Comments on “Houston Residents Unload on City Council Over Red Light Decision...”

  • avatar

    “I get the whole thing about the vote.”

    These red light cases are great, concise examples of the totalitarian impulse in some would be philosopher kings on the city and county level.
    The kind of politicians that win Kennedy Govt leadership awards for ‘bravely’ ignoring and belittling the democratic process when it stymies their tax and control plans.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    Sounds like Houston needs to hold a recall election.

    • 0 avatar

      A recall election would be fine, so long as it is done according to the law.

      The public referendum that these people complain about was in violation of the city charter. Resident Terry Dry is mistaken about what makes this country great–it is the fact that the country is based on constitution and law, and that everyone has to obey it, even the govt. (Also, Terry should recall that we do not live in a democracy, we live in a republic. The founding fathers were very skeptical of the public and designed the representative system for that reason.)

      Should the city charter be changed? Probably. However, until it is changed, the referendum that was held is illegal and violates the law. Personally it is strange to me that people care so much about people who run red lights being ticketed that they are willing to throw out their govt over it. Of all the really important things to base one’s vote on, this one is that important?

      • 0 avatar

        Red light cameras can only make a profit consistently by shortening yellow light times until intersections become unsafe. So, yeah, it’s important, particularly in comparison to the other issues that you might vote over for a mayor or city council member.

        If you need revenue, raise a tax: it’s more honest and won’t get people killed at intersections. If you want fewer people running red lights, extend the yellow light duration: this has been shown to consistently work.

      • 0 avatar
        Joe McKinney

        “Personally it is strange to me that people care so much about people who run red lights being ticketed that they are willing to throw out their govt over it. Of all the really important things to base one’s vote on, this one is that important?”

        Don’t overlook the real issue here. Yes, the people are angry about the red light cameras. However, the thing that has really fired them up is the fact that the mayor either cannot or will not abide by the will of the people who elected her.

        This something that we are seeing more and more of in this country. The voters express their wishes in a referendum which is later overturned on a technicality.

  • avatar

    Is that the “Rent is Too Damn High” guy?

  • avatar

    …more like ‘UN-American Traffic Solutions.’

    Looks like some elected officials are going to be out of office.

    I don’t see why they can’t tell ATS to pack sand. This needs to be stopped before it gets out of hand.

    For profit automated traffic ticketing. Like that’s a good idea.

    How much did they grease that mayor, too? Gotta wonder.

    • 0 avatar

      The mayor is dealing with a $120M budget shortfall. She’s already laid off a couple thousand workers, raised taxes, and cut benefits & services.

      The contract that the city signed with ATS requires a $16M (at least) payout for early termination. That’s over 10% of the budget shortfall. The city has already squeezed everything they can; where will they come up with that much more?

      I believe the mayor recognizes that the city doesn’t have the money to pay, and if the cameras stay on, the city will have more money to pay other bills. IMO, that’s what’s greasing her palms. (BTW, when the contract expires, I expect she will not renew the contract and thus turn off the cameras without any fees.)

      I do agree with you on the point of private, for-profit companies being involved in the process. The money collected should stay here and go to what they promised it would.

      • 0 avatar

        Unless the mayor has screwed it up, the contract has a “Force Majeure” which allows the city to void the contract due to outside circumstances without penalty.

      • 0 avatar

        The mayor’s office deliberately removed that part of the contract because the city legislature was about to ban red light cameras. That’s what brought the whole thing to a referendum and a court fight.

  • avatar

    So do you work for the city redav?

    The people of Houston approved a charter amendment that was broader in scope than a referendum. A referendum just repeals an ordinance, which a later council can re-adopt. It’s limited to 30 days because just collecting enough signatures places a stay upon the ordinance. A charter amendment prevents future councils from changing the voter-approved policy without the public voting. There was no “stay” with the charter amendment.

    Texas law and precedent says initiative language should be “liberally construed.” Your corrupt buddies at ATS and the federal judge deliberately cooked up a ridiculous reading of the law to reach the outcome that Parker wanted: more cameras. Judge Hughes cited *no legal precedent* on this position. For good reason, there is none.

  • avatar

    Rather than voiding the contract could the city simply increase the time of the yellow light? That would drastically cut violations and decrease accidents too.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, they could, but the purpose of the deal with ATS wasn’t to reduce traffic accidents, it was to generate revenue to try and stem the city’s budget crisis without either openly raising taxes or cutting spending, either of which would probably piss off more voters than the red light cameras. (Or maybe not, maybe this whole mess means the voters are paying a bit more attention).

  • avatar

    I’m coming to believe that these cases that pit the people’s wishes as expressed in the voting booth against the political and budgetary expediency of short-sited elected officials will be seen by historians as watershed moments in the history of American politics. This will all be seen as a symptom of something much larger in our history. And I believe this despite having no idea which way this will go over the long run.

  • avatar

    You know, I miss the olden days when cities would issue bonds to pay for infrastructure that would generate revenue to repay the bonds, instead of signing bend-me-over contracts with corporate thugs.

  • avatar

    “…but given the city’s budget deficit…”
    So much on traffic security.

  • avatar

    My guess is that most of the current city council members will be re-elected.

  • avatar

    There are temporary engineering changes the city could make to drastically reduce the citations and revenue from the cameras, likely low enough that ATS would ask to end the contract early because they would be taking financial losses from the contract with very few citations issued. This would accomplish the will of the people in another way, a way that would not risk millions of dollars in a lawsuit with ATS. So far, the city flatly refuses to take these simple temporary measures to honor the will of the people. It is likely that the revenue is still more important to the Mayor and some Council members than honoring the will of the people. This pursuit of the revenue at all costs might not change until the “noise” level from angry citizens gets high enough that city hall cannot ignore it. Ultimately, the citizens may have to remove every official who ever supported the cameras from office, both the elected ones and the appointed ones. James C. Walker, National Motorists Association,, Ann Arbor, MI (frequent visitor to Texas for extended stays)

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