BROOKSVILLE — The city of Brooksville's red light cameras were dealt a hard blow Monday night when City Council members decided to squelch the 2-year-old program that alternately had been viewed as a safety measure and a money grab.
The council reversed its 3-2 vote from two weeks ago, when it had decided to reinstate the cameras. The cameras had been switched off after passage of a state law that would have severely curbed the revenue the city would have gotten from the cameras.
This time, the vote to get rid of the cameras was 3-2, with council members Joe Bernardini, Richard Lewis and Frankie Burnett voting to give up a program, which the city's police chief said brought in more than $450,000 in revenue and improved safety at four city intersections.
But it wasn't money that killed the deal. Rather, it was the sway of public sentiment. More than a dozen camera opponents turned out to address the program Monday night, when the council was supposed to decide on a contract with a new camera vendor, Sensys America.
Brooksville businessman Pierre Des Jardins, an opponent of the cameras, had lobbied other business owners to try to persuade council members to revisit the issue. He won a victory of sorts by also persuading the council to allow 12 members of the audience to yield their three-minute speaking slots so that he could address his views on the legitimacy of the program.
"I have a new slogan for the city," a sarcastic Des Jardins told the council, "Welcome to Brooksville, the city that keeps on giving, ticket after ticket after ticket." From there, he offered a lengthy examination of the cameras, citing statistics and research that he claimed showed the cameras had little merit other than to raise revenue.
County Commission candidate Wayne Dukes said the cameras made many Spring Hill residents wary of driving to Brooksville.
"People have very negative feelings about them," Dukes said.
Police Chief George Turner once again defended the program, saying there is ample proof that the cameras deter accidents. He also disputed accusations that the city was deliberately manipulating the traffic signals to catch red light runners.
"We're not doing it because there's no need to," Turner said. "This saves lives."
Bernardini argued that statistics also showed that 97 percent of citations had gone to out-of-towners.
"You want to have a blueberry festival. You want people to come to Brooksville?" Bernardini asked. "It won't happen with those cameras."
Mayor Lara Bradburn reiterated her support for the program with an emotional plea.
"I've seen the bodies strewn in the street. I've talked to the victims," she said, referring to her years as a news reporter. "Those cameras, in my opinion, kept that from happening more often that it would have."
In the end, however, it was Burnett who tilted the issue in a new direction, changing his previous vote.
"I would have supported it if it were truly about safety," he said. "But I've talked to residents and business owners. They don't like them. So I can no longer support them."