Thursday, Nov 27, 2014
Columns

The will of the people should be heard on red-light camera issue


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Brooksville city officials have lost the good faith and trust of the citizens on the issue of red light cameras. People who follow this issue know Brooksville runs the second-most-predatory right-on-red-turn camera ticket program in Florida. The 5 mph threshold for right on red turns being deemed “careful and prudent” is more punitive than in any other venue in Florida except Manatee County, which illegally requires a full stop to avoid a camera ticket regardless of how safely a turn is made.

Those of us who study red light camera issues in Florida are also aware of the changes the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) made to the traffic light timing rules in July 2011 and September 2013 allowing cities to improperly set yellow intervals shorter than required for safety for the actual approach speeds of most vehicles. These improper changes by FDOT facilitate more camera tickets issued to safe drivers for more revenue, with the state taking 52.5 percent of the total fines.

Brooksville officials know many of its citizens oppose the cameras because they believe most citations are issued to safe drivers for small technical fouls that endanger no one, and they want the cameras removed. The manner in which the city has dealt with these objections has convinced many citizens that officials will not respect the will of the people on this issue, in either the short or the long term.

The reason to use a petition for a charter amendment is to guarantee that at no future time could city officials institute a red light camera or other automated traffic infraction detector system without first repealing this charter amendment with another vote of the citizens. A change at the level of a local ordinance or an advisory vote or any other lesser authority would not guarantee the citizens they would remain free of red light cameras or other automated traffic infraction detector systems in the future without a public vote. Citizens want the voters, not the elected officials, to make the binding decisions on automated traffic enforcement in Brooksville.

Florida law permits a group of citizens to have a question put on the ballot for a public vote that will be binding on local or state officials. This sometimes happens when the level of good faith breaks down between the citizens and the officials, as it has with the issue of red light cameras in Brooksville.

In my mind, this is absolutely in line with the famous phrase in President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address “...government of the people, by the people and for the people ...”. When officials do things that some citizens believe are contrary to the will of the people, there is a procedure for some reasonable minority of them to petition to get the issue placed on a public ballot and let the people decide. This is completely proper.

The reason cities like Brooksville and ticket camera companies like Sensys fight to keep these issues off the ballot is the fact that the vote is almost certain to be against the use of ticket cameras. Red light and speed cameras have lost 28 of 31 public votes to date, so the chances for Brooksville’s automated ticket camera system to survive a public vote are very low.

Those in the revenue stream from ticket cameras often try any tactics they can to keep the revenue streams flowing. If petitioners follow the rules to get the issue placed on a public ballot and then a majority of the voters do in fact vote no, the people have a right to prevail.

Brooksville officials have a chance to restore some of the trust and good faith with the citizens on this issue if they do two things. First, the council should announce that the charter amendment issue will be put on the November ballot, regardless of the outcome of the current court case. This will allow everyone to measure the actual will of the people on this issue, whether it is binding or not. Second, the city should ask the court to immediately dismiss the legal case against having the charter amendment on the ballot. These two actions would help restore the trust and good faith of the citizens that has been lost over the issue of red light cameras in Brooksville.

James C. Walker is a member of the National Motorists Association and a board member and executive director of the National Motorists Association Foundation. Email him at jcwconsult@aol.com.

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