Brooksville red-light camera referendum remains stalled in court system

Brooksville and an outside group hope to stop a referendum on red-light cameras.
The deadline has passed to get a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to decide on the use of red-light cameras in Brooksville. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times (2012)
The deadline has passed to get a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to decide on the use of red-light cameras in Brooksville.OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2012)
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BROOKSVILLE — Back in June, Pat and Shirley Miketinac turned over to the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Office 536 petition signatures that they were certain would pave the way for a November election referendum that would forever ban Brooksville's use of red-light cameras.

The reaction by the Brooksville City Council was swift. Within a week, a majority of council members voted to challenge the legality of the petition in Hernando County Circuit Court, requesting a declaratory judgment that focused on several issues.

Assistant city attorney Cliff Taylor thinks the referendum question, which seeks to change the city's charter, may be too restrictive in banning an activity that is clearly allowable under state law.

Although Taylor had hoped to have the court's decision sooner, the deadline to provide ballot language to the Hernando Supervisor of Elections Office passed weeks ago. The matter will come before Circuit Court Judge Thomas Eineman on Oct. 14.

Bill Sharpe, a Tallahassee attorney representing the Miketinacs, said his clients are now asking that the city be ordered to hold a special election to decide the referendum.

If the city is granted a summary judgment, the effort will likely end. If a court sides with the Miketinacs, the matter could go to trial in December, Sharpe said.

"All (the Miketinacs) have wanted all along is to give the people the ability to decide," he said. "And the City Council voted not to let them do it."

The Miketinacs, who are among seven defendants named in the city's lawsuit, spent nine months gathering signatures at public events and on street corners. In addition to the city's action, the couple is named as co-defendants in a recent injunction filed by the Tampa office of law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt on behalf of the nonprofit red-light camera advocacy group Keep Florida Roads Safe.

According to state records, Keep Florida Roads Safe was formed Aug. 25, the same day the injunction was filed. The document filed with the court claims that the Miketinacs' petition not only violates state law and the city's charter rules, but is "vague and ambiguous and thus misleading to voters."

The city's history with red-light cameras began in 2008 when council members agreed to enter into a contract with American Traffic Solutions, an Arizona company that installed cameras at five intersections throughout the city.

The monitoring devices, which earned the city about $350,000 annually in fines over two years, quickly drew criticism from many motorists, business owners and residents, who felt they did not significantly improve driver safety and awareness. The cameras came down two years later when a newly enacted state law forced the city to abandon its contract with ATS.

In 2011, the city entered into a three-year deal with Sensys America, which agreed to operate under new state rules allowing the state to collect $83 for every $158 violation, with the city and the company splitting the remaining $75. But, as before, the cameras found many foes, including two county judges who tossed dozens of right-turn-on-red cases, citing constitutional concerns over the state law that regulates camera programs.

The present council, which includes three members who supported the cameras' return, chose not to renew the Sensys contract, which is set to expire Oct. 3. However, due to an interpretation of the contract's language, the last of the 16 cameras installed by the company likely won't come down until December of next year.

By then, the makeup of the council will have changed, with newcomers occupying three council seats. Two of the new council members who ran unopposed, Natalie Kahler and Robert "Butch" Battista, have not indicated solid support for the cameras' return to the city.

Battista said he would have to be convinced by "hard data" that cameras make intersections safer before he would approve them.

"So far at this point," he said, "no one has come up with anything that would make me say yes."

Kahler, in an email, said the safety of residents is a top priority and that she wants to continue to study the issue before making a decision.

"It is our duty to make sure we do all within our power to ensure both drivers and pedestrians are safe," Kahler wrote.

Contact Logan Neill at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.

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