11/12/2009Texas: Red Light Camera Company Blocks Referendum
Traffic camera vendor temporarily thwarts voter effort to take down red light cameras in College Station, Texas.
A lawsuit funded by a photo enforcement company succeeded yesterday in temporarily blocking the results of the vote to end red light cameras in College Station, Texas. Judge Suzanne Stovall granted a temporary restraining order preventing the city from ending its contract with American Traffic Solutions, despite the November 3 vote of a majority of residents demanding that the cameras come down.
The law firm of Bovey, Akers and Bojorquez ostensibly filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Keep College Station Safe Political Action Committee (PAC), a group entirely funded by College Station's camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and its subcontractors. Of the PAC's $67,100 in reported funding, the largest chunk -- $30,000 -- came directly from ATS. Garry Mauro, a paid ATS consultant, gave $5000. Another $8000 came from Signal Electric, a Washington-based contractor that installs red light cameras for ATS. ForceCon Services, a Texas-based red light camera installation subcontractor, gave $5000. Questmark Information Management Inc, a company that prints citations for ATS, provided a $16,600 in-kind donation.
The company's election challenge argued that the initiative petition was invalid because it referenced an ordinance "enacted 10/25/08" when the ordinance in question had actually passed in October 2007.
"Given the failure on the part of the 'initiative petitions' to identify with reasonable specificity the ordinance sought to be repealed, as identified by its date of adoption, the court cannot ascertain the true outcome of the election and the election should be declared void," the ATS-backed suit explained.
The suit also contended that the initiative was actually a "referendum" that should have been filed in 2007, twenty days after the ordinance was adopted. Against this, Ash argued that his petition to the city council, signed by residents, was labeled "initiative" not "referendum." Moreover, the petition declares the "powers" referenced by the ordinance to be "deemed and declared unenforceable" -- a legislative action that would do more than simply overturn a particular ordinance.
Although College Station officials are named as defendants in the lawsuit, the city had been planning for this action. The city also admitted that it did not believe there was any mandate to take down the red light cameras, despite the election results.
"College Station was concerned that the petition was invalid because it was a referendum that was untimely filed, and told [petition sponsor Jim Ash] that regardless the city would submit the petition to the voters, but that the petition may be challenged in court," the city's brief to the court explained. "Such results do not in themselves send a clear message to College Station that the electorate overwhelmingly desires that red light cameras be banned."
Hearings on the issue will continue on November 20.