12/18/2014Texas Town Approves Red Light Cameras Despite Mounting Complaints
Willis, Texas ignores pending referendum, criminal complaint and rising accidents to renew red light camera program.
A criminal complaint and a pending ballot box revolt by residents failed to dissuade officials in Willis, Texas from extending the contract giving American Traffic Solutions (ATS) the right to mail out traffic citations at local intersections. The city council on Tuesday approved a new agreement with ATS by a 2 to 1 vote while several of the councilmen were absent.
"The mayor is blatantly ignoring the will of the people and presiding over an illegally run camera operation," Kelli Cook, a Campaign for Liberty activist, told TheNewspaper.
Cook has already collected 750 signatures on a petition to put a repeal of the red light camera program on the ballot, far more than the 113 needed to qualify. Texans have rejected cameras every time they have appeared on the ballot with votes in Conroe, Dayton, Houston, Baytown, League City and College Station.
The Willis activists have lodged a number of complaints about the automated ticketing program that has been in place at two intersections since 2010, locations they charge were selected without the engineering studies required by state law. Willis Police Chief James Nowak admitted the complaint is valid.
"In light of this issue over the traffic engineering study, I spoke to the city manager a few minutes ago," Chief Nowak wrote in an email October 14 email to ATS regional manager Justin McDole. "We agree that without proof of the engineering study that meets the language of the statute, we may have an illegal system in place. Therefore, we are not going to process any more violations, effective immediately, until we all get this issue resolved."
Chief Nowak has also admitted that he used red light camera videos on 28 occasions for general surveillance, which is a misdemeanor violation of state code Section 707.006. Cook on Friday filed a criminal complaint with the Montgomery County district attorney, including additional internal emails obtained from the city as proof of her allegation.
Activists point to the official Texas Department of Transportation accident data to show that collisions increased 140 percent last year over the number of collisions before cameras were installed. City officials did not dispute the numbers.
"Well, accidents have gone up, especially at 1097," Chief Nowak admitted when questioned by the city council on Tuesday.
Chief Nowak blamed traffic volume for the increase, but Cook and her fellow activists want the cameras taken down immediately. They are targeting the camera supporters, Mayor Leonard Reed and Councilmen John Lovelady and Tamara Young-Hector, for defeat at their next election. Residents will not be able to vote to ban the cameras by charter amendment until 2016.
"The city of Willis shall not use photographic traffic signal enforcement systems to civilly, criminally, or administratively enforce any state law or city ordinance against the owner or operator of a vehicle operated in violation of a traffic control signal, specified by Section 544.007(d) of the Texas Transportation Code, nor shall it collect any money from any recipient of a notice of violation issued, in whole or in part, in connection with the use of a photographic traffic signal enforcement system," the proposed charter amendment states.