3/10/2011Texas City Ignores Anti-Camera Voter Petition
Port Lavaca, Texas attempts to avoid voter referendum on red light camera program.
Officials in Port Lavaca, Texas decided yesterday that they would ignore an initiative petition calling for the 12,000 residents to decide the fate of the red light cameras in a May election (view petition). Signatures on the petition were certified as valid shortly after being submitted in January and a special city council meeting was scheduled to place the measure on the ballot, but the city decided against holding the vote. The group Port Lavaca Citizens Against Red Light Cameras believes the city is violating the law.
"We complied with all requirements of the city charter regarding charter amendments," initiative organizer Dwayne Buehring told TheNewspaper. "We turned these in three months ago. Apparently, it was an orchestrated effort on their part to put it off until the last minute so we had no recourse to get it on the May ballot."
Monday is the deadline for an item to be part of the May elections. Under Texas and municipal law, the council vote to place a charter amendment before voters is considered a ministerial duty not subject to the discretion of individual council members.
"The council shall submit a proposed charter amendment to the voters for their approval at an election if the submission is supported by a petition signed by a number of qualified voters of the municipality equal to at least five percent of the number of qualified voters," Section 14.17 of Port Lavaca's city charter states.
Mayor Jack Whitlow explained that he pulled the item on the advice of the city attorney who argued that "health and safety" matters are not subject to the initiative process. Whitlow also cited a lawsuit filed against the city by a front group for Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian company in charge of the camera program. Whitlow suggested the vote might be delayed until November.
"It makes the whole deal look shady," Buehring said. "They know that these cameras will be overturned, and they're scared of that. They'll be put in the same place as Houston. So they're just going to run and hide, violate the charter and violate the law. It's been very clear they love the money."
Red light cameras and speed cameras have been put to a public vote on fifteen occasions, including votes in Houston, College Station and Baytown. Automated enforcement has never survived a vote.