5/17/2012Texas Judge Strikes Down Red Light Camera Referendum
Judge prohibits public vote on Port Lavaca, Texas red light cameras because the program raises money.
A Calhoun County, Texas judge on Monday ruled that voters were prohibited from having a say in whether a foreign company can issue red light camera tickets in the city of Port Lavaca because the photo enforcement program's primary purpose is revenue generation.
"Because city of Port Lavaca Ordinance S-1-08... implicates and involves the city's budget and appropriates money for capital expenditures, it is not subject to the power of referendum as set forth in Article 5 Section 5.03 of the Port Lavaca City Charter," Judge Joseph D. Kelly ruled. "Because [the ordinance] is not subject to the power of initiative or referendum, any petition for referendum seeking to repeal such ordinance is invalid, and the city council of the city of Port Lavaca is without legal authority to place it before the electorate for consideration."
Judge Kelly issued his final summary judgment after hearing the argument presented by the Texas Traffic Safety Coalition, which sued Port Lavaca to the camera program's survival. Port Lavaca also supports the camera program. The Texas Traffic Safety Coalition is a front group for Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian company that operates cameras on the city's behalf.
In filings with the Texas Secretary of State, the Texas Traffic Safety Coalition reported it was run by David Goldenberg, Gregory Goldner and David Smolensky. All three are senior staff for Resolute Consulting, a public relations firm based in Chicago, Illinois that was hired by Redflex to create the appearance that the program had "grassroots" support. The front group's lawyers argued to Judge Kelly that the red light camera ordinance clearly implicated money.
"Because repeal of the ordinance would greatly affect the city's budget, it is not the proper subject of referendum," attorney Matthew R. Beatty wrote on behalf of the Redflex-funded group. "In the event the ordinance was repealed as directed by the petition (either by reconsideration of the city council or by ballot), the city would be forced to breach its contract with Redflex resulting in significant legal liability greatly exceeding $1,000,000. Funding for that liability... would come directly from the city's budget handcuffing its ability to meet other budgetary obligations and putting the city in a perilous financial condition."
Port Lavaca's attorney did not dispute the front group's argument. Instead, it asked for the judge to proceed to trial on the issue. Judge Kelly, who will retire on January 1, saw no point in bringing the issue to trial.
The organizers of the anti-camera petition, who were not given a say in the court proceedings, told TheNewspaper that they will continue the fight until residents have a chance to decide the fate of the automated ticketing machines.
A copy of the decision is available in a 75k PDF file at the source link below.