8/17/2009College Station, Texas Tries to Undermine Anti-Camera Referendum
College Station, Texas may attempt to circumvent a public vote on the future of red light cameras.
The success of citizen initiative petitions to stop photo enforcement have forced local officials to react swiftly. In Heath, Ohio the mayor has begun forgiving recipients of multiple speed camera tickets in a desperate attempt to paint a friendlier face on the program after formal acceptance of the petition that will put the future of the program up for a public vote in November. A similar petition also succeeded in College Station, Texas, but officials are turning to far more hostile tactics. Local resident Jim Ash, who led the charge to gather signatures, now says city officials will attempt to sabotage the ballot initiative later today.
"In a recent radio interview, Mayor Ben White asserted 'the city does not have to take the petition to a vote in November,'" Ash wrote in a letter to City Manager Glenn Brown. "This fact coupled with the city's plans that you disclosed to me in our call today leave me troubled. I believe the city's actions threaten to undermine the foundation of the petition."
According to the text of the petition, the specific powers granted under the city's Automated Traffic Signal Enforcement ordinance would be declared "unenforceable." By taking away these powers in a legislative act of the people, city officials would be unable to resurrect the red light camera program. To get around this, city leaders appear willing to re-write the ballot measure so that it is a simple referendum on a specific ordinance. Doing so would make it easier to bring back the cameras at some later date.
The city's ploy has another flaw. If the public is to vote only to overturn an ordinance, the vote would be immediately invalid because a referendum to overturn an ordinance must be launched twenty days after passage of the ordinance. The city strongly denied that it is attempting to keep the cameras at any cost.
"It is ludicrous to think that anyone from the city of College Station would attempt to sabotage this petition," City Manager Glenn Brown responded in an email to Ash. "The city of College Station has a staff of five professional attorneys, including a city attorney with almost forty years of municipal law experience. The city council and staff take our legal advice from the city's legal department."
Ash does not believe Brown's reply was sincere. He will argue his case before the city council at 7pm today during a public meeting that will begin the process of putting the referendum on the November ballot.
In all cases where such measures have been put on the ballot, photo enforcement has never survived. In 2009, eighty-six percent of Sulphur, Louisiana rejected speed cameras. In 2008, residents in Cincinnati, Ohio rejected red light cameras. Seventy-six percent of Steubenville, Ohio voters rejected photo radar in 2006. In the mid-1990s, speed cameras lost by a two-to-one margin in Peoria, Arizona and Batavia, Illinois. In 1997, voters in Anchorage, Alaska banned cameras even after the local authorities had removed them. In 2003, 64 percent of voters in Arlington, Texas voted down "traffic management cameras" that opponents at the time said could be converted into ticketing cameras.
A copy of Ash's letter and Brown's response is available in a 350k PDF file at the source link below.