Sometimes, automated cameras and red-light cameras, in particular, create hot water situations for locally elected officials. Other times, automated cameras become the stuff of scandal, such as the scandal that keeps on rolling currently in the state of Illinois.
The controversy in Fountain Hills, Arizona, is not a scandal per se. But the city council found itself in a bit of trouble this summer whenever they violated the state’s open meeting laws. The issue involves emails sent around between council members discussing particulars of bringing one red-light camera to a city intersection to catch rolling red violators. Under state law, elected members of a public body cannot conduct an email exchange involving a “quorum,” regarding anything that might come before that said body in an open meeting.
In July, a complaint about the open meeting laws was filed with the state’s Attorney General Mark Brnovich by the Arizona Campaign for Liberty Director Shawn Dow. Dow had plenty to say to TheNewspaper.com:
“Mayor Dickey—knowing these cameras were going to cost this town millions in lawsuits—is willing to break the law to sneak them in while everyone is on lockdown. She is trying to use these cameras to cover her inept budgeting skills. She lost the tax increase, so she is trying to punish us with unconstitutional cameras.”
(photo from the Fountain Hills Times)
Right after the complaint was filed, mysterious orange signs with white lettering popped up all over town. They read, “Honk—if you hate Red Light Cameras.”
The local newspaper, the Fountain Hills Times, ran an article about the mysterious signs:
“No one seems to know where the signs came from, but the reason they were put up likely stems from a council vote in June directing staff to research the installation of a red-light enforcement camera at the intersection of Palisades and Shea Boulevards.”
Several years ago, the city decided to restrict the right turn off Palisades. This decision was not incredibly popular from the start, according to the Fountain Hills Times. A year ago, the city placed a sign at the intersection that reads, “No Right on Red.”
This intersection is also the exact place where the city council wanted to put a red-light camera to catch drivers making rolling red stops. All indications point to the fact that from a traffic safety standpoint, this was not an issue. Could it have really been about bringing in some extra cash for the city? Hmmm.
Fast forward to August 24th: The red-light camera issue is now an agenda item before the city council.
NMA Member Greg Johnson decided that he was going to take a stand, go to the meeting and give his two-bits in the few minutes allotted. He armed himself with information from the NMA website and also called me to ask a few questions. When called upon, Greg was able to pack a great deal in a few minutes before the council. He told the members that red-light cameras were nothing more than a fraud. He focused on the historical manipulation of the statistics, some cities shorten yellow lights to make red-light camera tickets more lucrative, and the issue with red line placement. Greg also mentioned that one of the vendors had staff convicted of bribery charges in other states.
Greg called me the next day and said he was happy that he had given testimony at the meeting and remarked that it was not as hard as he thought it would be. He wants to encourage more motorist rights advocates to speak up at city council meetings since traffic issues are always local.
The TheNewspaper.com reported that before the meeting, town council members were unanimous in supporting the installation of this red-light camera. By the meeting’s end, however, all seven members were unanimous in not going forward with the camera. What happened?
Public opposition, both in the form of emails and people voicing their opposition to the plan at the meeting, made a difference. The anonymously placed signs bringing awareness to the issue probably didn’t hurt.
Greg said he believes that the council was unprepared for public resistance to the cameras. He was not the only one testifying. After he took the podium, another citizen stated quite forcefully that he would sue the council if they dared to place that camera at that intersection (and if they were thinking about bringing in more).
The Fountain Hill Times reporter present stated in the article the day after the vote that the real reason the council members decided against the proposal was due to the shroud of secrecy surrounding the information about the camera companies themselves.
According to public works director Justin Weldy, the two vendors (Redlex and Verra Mobility—formerly American Traffic Solutions) contacted by the city were reticent about giving out any initial information due to proprietary data and contract secrecy. The town would need to be more serious and request bid proposals to obtain any additional information.
Whatever the reason for the council to drop the idea of red-light camera permanently, does it really matter? We are just happy another camera will not be placed to harass motorists.
Greg is happy the vote came out the way it did. In the same meeting, he stood up again during a discussion about speed limits. He talked about why the city should use the 85th percentile information that they already had to set a speed limit instead of political pressure. The speed limit decision has been put off until the next monthly meeting.
Greg says he plans to keep tabs on the city council to make sure that Fountain Hills keeps moving.