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10/21/2011
Texas Resident Calls for Investigation Over Bogus Red Light Camera Tickets
Port Lavaca, Texas hides records regarding intersection where red light camera ticket issued on a green light.

Byron SchirmbeckPort Lavaca, Texas is refusing to release documents that might reveal whether additional motorists have received automated tickets for running a green light. Yesterday, Byron Schirmbeck, director of saferbaytown.com, filed a formal complaint with Calhoun County District Attorney Dan Heard over the city's refusal to comply with the terms of the state open records statute that generally requires the disclosure of public documents within ten days.

On September 12, Port Lavaca Police Sergeant Kelly Flood signed a ticket accusing motorist Dale Price of running a red light at the intersection of US 35 and Travis Street. Video evidence clearly shows Price's vehicle entered on a steady green light (view video). On September 23, Schirmbeck filed a public records request seeking all red light camera tickets issued around the date the camera generated Price's bogus citation. The city responded on October 6.

"The information you're requesting regarding number 1, you will have to contact red light camera," wrote Tiffany Butcher with the Port Lavaca Police Department's records division.

Other Texas cities have turned over copies of photo citations without issue. Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian company in charge of Port Lavaca ticketing, refused to provide the records, claiming an exemption, according to an email provided to Schirmbeck yesterday. Neither Redflex nor any city attorney has the authority to decide whether such records are exempt.

"Unless the governmental body has a previous determination from a court or the attorney general regarding the precise information requested, a governmental body cannot determine on its own to withhold information," the attorney general's website explains.

The deadline for the city to ask for an attorney general ruling has lapsed. Schirmbeck believes the city's lack of respect for the open records law fits a pattern of lawlessness. Port Lavaca has failed to submit the required annual reports to the state about its red light camera system. Photo tickets in the city do not include the notice required under Section 707.019 of the state code explaining that failure to pay the citation cannot result in an arrest warrant or a penalty on the owner's driving record. It ignored state law that required the city council to place a vote on an anti-camera referendum on the November ballot.

"They deliberately and consistently violate the law but then try and penalize other people saying they broke the law and have to pay up," Schirmbeck told TheNewspaper. "When does their bill come in, that's what I want to know."

Port Lavaca Citizens Against Red Light Cameras is currently gathering signatures on a second attempt to let voters decide whether to keep or reject the automated ticketing machines. Schirmbeck intends to file a formal complaint against Port Lavaca with Attorney General Greg Abbott.



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