7/7/2011Houston, Texas Mayor Defies Voters, Restarts Red Light Cameras
Red light cameras to return to Houston, Texas over the objection of voters who rejected cameras in November.
The mayor of Houston, Texas announced yesterday that red light cameras would be reactivated even though a majority of voters in November approved a ballot measure in November forbidding their use. The vote was overturned after a largely off-the-record between a federal judge, camera vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and city attorneys on the day after Thanksgiving. Mayor Anise Parker wanted the cameras back on for revenue reasons and US District Court Judge Lynn N. Hughes granted her wish last month by citing a technicality to cancel the election result (view ruling).
"The city just went through a very painful budget process in which nearly 750 employees were laid off and park, library and health services were cut back," Parker said in a statement. "I have decided the fiscally-prudent path to take is to turn the cameras back on."
The initiative sponsors, Paul, Randy and Francis Kubosh are already taking legal measures to fight back.
"I would say that the mayor's decision was not unexpected," Paul Kubosh told TheNewspaper. "She is addicted to the money. We will continue our struggle against the Mayor Parker and her ATS allies. This is just one battle in the long war."
The Kuboshes are arguing before the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that Houston officials conspired with ATS to bring and lose the case before a federal court, instead of a Texas court where election challenges belong. Under state supreme court precedent, charter amendments approved by voters "should be liberally construed in favor of the power reserved" by the people. Judge Hughes instead employed narrow construction and decided without citing any legal authority that the initiative was a referendum so that he could bring back the cameras for which he openly expressed his support from the bench.
Parker claims she had no choice but to restore red light cameras because, "We simply don't have the millions they claim we would owe" if the city broke its contract with ATS. This is only true because Houston's own city attorneys specifically eliminated an escape clause in the contract in order to avoid being shut down by the state legislature which had briefly considered banning automated ticketing machines.
The cameras will begin issuing tickets after a brief testing period. Houston on Wednesday also filed a petition asking Judge Hughes for permission to appeal his interim ruling.