9/30/2009Ohio City Asks Supreme Court to Stop Camera Referendum
Mayor of Chillicothe, Ohio demands that state supreme court intervene to prevent voters from deciding the fate of speed cameras.
An Ohio city is so desperate to prevent voters from having a say on the future of speed cameras that it filed a motion Monday asking the state supreme court to strip the public of its right to vote on the issue. In April, residents submitted more than double the number of signatures required to place a photo enforcement referendum on the November ballot (view initiative text). The move so infuriated Mayor Joseph Sulzer that he challenged the ballot with the Ross County Board of Elections earlier this month. Sulzer insists the board had no right to reject this challenge.
"Chillicothe seeks a writ of prohibition to prevent the board [of elections] from placing the proposed municipal initiative petition on the November 3, 2009 general election ballot," the city's petition states.
In an ironic twist, Mayor Sulzer's primary argument is that city officials were denied a fair hearing before the board of elections when they attempted to quash the referendum. Citizens Against Photo Enforcement (CAPE) argues that city officials routinely deny citizens their constitutional right to due process through the use of administrative hearings that presume the guilt of vehicle owners accused by a private company that is compensated based on the number of convictions obtained.
Sulzer also argues that the initiative is void because Chillicothe officials used administrative, not legislative, powers to establish the camera program. He insists that the program falls under state law authorizing police departments to purchase any equipment needed to do their job.
"Ohio Revised Code 715.05 grants a municipal corporation the authority to 'organize and maintain police and fire departments... and purchase and hold all implements and apparatus required therefor,'" the city's court filing states. "Ordinance No. 151-07 incorporates the contract by reference, and specifically provides that the purpose for the use of cameras is to monitor and identify and enforce speed and red light violations and to attempt the reduction of vehicle collisions at specific intersections. Ordinance No. 151-07 and its resulting contract, therefore, were authorized by R.C. 715.05 in order to maintain the police department and hold implements and apparatus for maintenance of that department."
Camera critics respond by pointing out that neither the city nor the Chillicothe Police Department own or operate any equipment related to the photo enforcement program. Instead, Redflex, the city's Australian contractor, retains sole ownership of the automated ticketing machines. Opposition leader Rebekah Valentich, a candidate for the Second Ward council seat, believes the current situation is evidence that the entire city council must go.
"We have intentions of recalling the mayor, as well as all the council," Valentich told TheNewspaper. "We are sick and tired to death of having legislation crammed down our throats and being told it is for our own good. We voted for them to legislate for us, not against us, and so we are going to make the necessary changes."
No photo enforcement program has ever survived a public vote, with the city of Sulphur, Louisiana most recently voting 86 percent in favor of banning automated ticketing. A copy of the Chillicothe filing is available in a 350k PDF at the source link below.