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South Carolina: Renegade Mayor Issues Illegal Photo Tickets
Ridgeland, South Carolina issues photo tickets despite attorney general rulings finding the program violates state law.

Mayor Gary W. Hodges
The mayor of Ridgeland, South Carolina is taking a stand in defiance of a state law that bans the use of speed cameras anywhere in the state (view law). Mayor Gary W. Hodges earlier this month began issuing speeding tickets based on evidence provided by an automated traffic system set up in a recreational vehicle parked on Interstate 95 despite warnings from lawmakers.

"The program is up and running," Hodges announced at an August 12 meeting. "There are those at various levels who think this is a bad thing -- I for the life of me can't figure out why people have a problem with this."

The automated speeding ticket issuance system is run by a for-profit company called iTraffic which was established by the founder of Nestor Traffic Systems, which went bankrupt last year. The company is hoping to use Ridgeland as a base to expand throughout the state. Both Hodges and iTraffic hope Ridgeland becomes the start of a trend.

"Once this system is up and running over the long term and it's picked up by other municipalities and counties across the state -- and there are four major ones that are looking at it right now, they just didn't want to get caught up in this publicity vacuum -- once it becomes a common thing as in Florida where they've had signs [that say] 'airplanes enforcing speeds' for years," Hodges said.

Hodges defended the iTraffic program against a number of complaints he has heard, including that the system is nothing more than a modern-day speed trap nabbing travelers making their way on a key north-south interstate route.

"It's a large van -- it's not a police car behind a tree or anything like that," Hodges said. "It's very obvious. It's clearly out in the open."

Residents, however, report the vehicle frequently parks below overpasses, and there are no warning signs placed in advance of the vehicle. Hodges lashed out at the state lawmakers, especially state Senator Larry Grooms and Representative J. Todd Rutherford who championed the law banning photo enforcement.

"We have a couple legislators, they're from other jurisdictions -- one's from Charleston, one from Columbia -- they're still meddling in our local issue down here," Hodges said. "They still do not know the facts."

Both lawmakers had written to state Attorney General Henry McMaster about the speed camera program. Hodges first learned that McMaster's office determined that Ridgeland's program was illegal from reading about the issue on TheNewspaper (view story). He then attacked the ability of McMaster and his office to issue a proper legal finding.

"There's two recent attorney general opinions about this -- one late June, one early July -- we did not know this until yesterday," Hodges said. "I got it off this website that there were two fresh attorney general opinions dealing strictly with this issue in the town of Ridgeland... I thought it was pitiful that we got these off the Internet.... We've looked at them. They don't apply... It has nothing to do with what we're talking about. It's just inadequate information based on an inadequate question asked."

Hodges vowed to press forward with his ticketing despite state pressure to terminate the program.

"Why not use technology to save some lives, and to help pay the bills of the town," Hodges said.

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