5/12/2015Texas Group Files Complaint Over Illegal Speed Camera Program
Grassroots America files formal legal complaint against speed camera program in Smith County, Texas.
Smith County, Texas Judge Joel Baker kicked off controversy when he announced the implementation of a speed camera program on April 27. The group Grassroots America We The People filed formal a complaint last week with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the local district attorney, urging both to open an investigation into the secretive dealings between Baker and Arizona-based camera vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to set up the photo radar contract.
The state legislature banned speed cameras in 2007 in response to the speed trap towns of Rhome and Marble Falls, which had decided to set up automated speed traps on their own authority.
"A municipality may not implement or operate an automated traffic control system with respect to a highway under its jurisdiction," Transportation Code Section 542.2035 states. "The attorney general shall enforce this subsection."
JoAnn Fleming, the head of Grassroots America, wants the attorney general to enforce this provision against Smith County. She argues that the county cannot claim this statute does not apply simply because a county is not a municipality.
"Counties, unlike cities, have no general ordinance-making authority," Fleming wrote in her complaint. "In the absence of statutory authority granted in the Texas Constitution or in state statutes, counties are not allowed to construct for themselves their own permissions, authority, and jurisdictions."
Fleming also believes that Smith County commissioners violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by agreeing to the speed camera contract on August 12, 2014 without providing the required notice to the public.
"Because of the way this matter was stated on the agenda, discussed in the closed session, and treated in the open portion of the meeting (where a vote was taken), a member of the public had no way of knowing what was actually taking place with this traffic camera project," Fleming wrote. "A contract or agreement executed out of compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act is in legal jeopardy."
Without consulting county commissioners about the final details, Judge Baker signed a ten-year no-bid contract with ATS that even includes an "exclusivity" clause prohibiting the county from doing business with any firm that competes with ATS. The deal pays ATS $8700 per camera per month, compared to the $2900 per camera per month rate charged to Kaufman County.
"Perhaps there is a good reason for the $5800 difference (higher cost per camera) for the 2015 ATS Smith County contract compared to the 2014 Kaufman County contract," Fleming wrote. "However, the people of Smith County are not privy to that information because the terms of this contract and the important details of this project were never discussed in public."
The mayor and city council of the city of Tyler wrote to Baker on April 25 to insist that none of the speed cameras be placed within Tyler city limits.
"We are firm believers in a unified city and county, but this potentially disastrous program by the county that impacts our citizens was moved forward without any input from us," the Tyler officials wrote.