4/22/2010Texas: Photo Ticket Firm Gears Up To Fight Public Vote
Company declares public relations war against members of public who oppose red light cameras in Baytown, Texas.
A photo enforcement company and city officials are gearing up to fight members of the public who will soon vote on the issue of red light cameras in Baytown, Texas. Earlier this year, American Traffic Solutions (ATS) set up a front group entitled Safety Cameras for a Safer Baytown to serve as its political action committee in opposition to a ballot measure that would ban the use of cameras. The firm used the same tactic in its failed effort to save cameras from a public vote in College Station last year.
Less than two weeks after the vote in that city, an article on TheNewspaper regarding the upcoming referendum in Baytown prompted ATS National Project Manager Jason Norton to ask, "What is the story?" City officials continued most of the discussion by telephone to avoid disclosure of their discussions under freedom of information laws. Officials made an exception for one point intended to be made in writing.
"Please be aware that ATS assumes the risk of the investment of expansion," Deputy City Manager Bob Leiper wrote in a November 16 email to ATS. "City council supports the enhanced safety provided by the additional [red light camera] locations but we also expect an election ballot item related to red light cameras in May 2010."
City lawyers succeeded in delaying that vote by forcing camera opponents to start from scratch with a revised referendum petition. Officials have used the extra time to work with ATS in generating marketing material to promote the benefits of photo enforcement "in regards to revenue." The red light camera support front group also established "Baytown Cameras Work" on Facebook -- a group that currently has just one friend, Norm Nolasco. Nolasco happens to the the CEO of Advarion Inc, the website campaign organization hired to create political websites on behalf of ATS.
"Baytown Cameras Work is endorsed by the National Safety Council," a March 16 posting on the Facebook page stated. "Please visit our site for more information."
The Safety Cameras for a Safer Baytown website also displayed the logos of the National Safety Council, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Partnership for Advancing Road Safety and claimed their endorsement. When Baytown resident and anti-camera petition organizer Byron Schirmbeck contacted the organizations, he was told no such endorsements were ever given. Under Internal Revenue Service rules, a 501(c)(3) organization such as the National Safety Council is absolutely prohibited from engaging in political activities, including endorsing particular candidates or ballot measures. The IRS investigates any complaints made regarding violations of these rules. The logos were recently removed from the website, but not the Facebook page.
In response to Shirmbeck's activism, Baytown Police legal advisor Ford Hamilton asked ATS in February to locate the video for "an old violation issued to Mr. Byron Schirmbeck." ATS responded in less than an hour.
"Absolutely," Client Services Liaison Jennifer Shawley wrote. "Give me a few and I'll have it unarchived. Do you need me to email you the pictures and video or do you just need to view them in Axsis?"
Last month, a similar video was used in an attempt to silence Illinois state Senator Dan Duffy who had introduced legislation that would have banned the use of automated ticketing machines statewide. A copy of the correspondence between ATS and Baytown can be found in a 600k PDF file at the source link below.