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Willis, Texas Ignores Anti-Camera Petition
City council in Willis, Texas votes to ignore a certified ballot proposition seeking a vote on banning red light cameras.

Larry L. Foerster
Officials in Willis, Texas are doing everything they can to prevent residents from having a say in whether red light cameras are used in their community. The city council voted Tuesday to block a proposed charter amendment submitted by residents who had collected more than six times the number of signatures legally required to force the matter onto the ballot. The city's attorney offered a rationale to keep the cameras running.

"I've looked at the petition," Larry L. Foerster told the council. "I've also looked at federal and state court decisions here in our area relating to this charter amendment. In my opinion, having reviewed all those things -- in particular a federal court decision that is the southern district of Texas, which our city is in. I believe that the petition as it's written and presented is not valid."

Foerster is referring to the decision by US District Court Judge Lynn N. Hughes, a magistrate who has close ties to the top lawyer for camera vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS). Judge Hughes did his best to overturn the results 2010 election in Houston where voters soundly rejected camera use. Although it considered only a narrow legal issue, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rebuked Judge Hughes for the "haste of litigation" that he placed "on a fast track" in a way that suited "the city's pecuniary motives" (view ruling).

"The petition in Houston, which we copied, is still on the books." Kelli Cook, a Campaign for Liberty activist, told TheNewspaper. "This desperate attempt by the city attorney and the camera company to save their revenue program is very transparent."

Despite Foerster's protestations, he has been working behind the scenes with ATS to ensure the city would not wind up paying a hefty financial penalty, as Houston did, in the event voters oust the cameras before the contract is up.

"We... would appreciate your considering an 'opt-out' clause in the next services agreement to protect the city of Willis in the unlikely event that our citizens vote to reject the current ATS traffic enforcement photographic system," Foerster wrote in an October 31, 2014 email to ATS. "We will certainly keep you informed on whether the petition gets the necessary number of qualified signatures."

Cook and her fellow activists say they will not let the city council get away with this, noting that the mayor and councilmen are all up for re-election in May.

"Giving up is not an option," Cook said. "We have an opportunity to reclaim this city and find representation that respects the will of the voters. We will continue to walk neighborhoods and inform the residents about the arrogant behavior of their elected officials. We will demand a resolution be put forth to have the red light camera put on the ballot by the council themselves."

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