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Brooksville's red-light camera program facing increased pressure

A group that wants Brooksville to eliminate red-light cameras has collected more than half the signatures needed to force a referendum.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2012)

A group that wants Brooksville to eliminate red-light cameras has collected more than half the signatures needed to force a referendum.

BROOKSVILLE — If you drive in downtown Brooksville these days, you're likely to see Shirley Miketinac standing on a street corner trying to grab your attention by waving a handmade sign.

Over the past several weeks, Miketinac has been front and center in a growing effort to attract as many Brooksville residents as possible to sign a petition that would give residents the power to overturn the ordinance that created the city's red-light camera program.

Miketinac doesn't live in the city and has never gotten a red-light camera citation, but believes the traffic-monitoring devices are bad for the city in more ways than she cares to count.

"I haven't met a single person who is in favor of them," Miketinac said. "People feel they're being violated. They don't feel it's fair."

At nearly every City Council meeting for the past several months, Miketinac and her husband, Pat, have been preaching the anticamera gospel and pleading with council members to at least consider ways that would lessen the hardships for unwary drivers, such as lengthening yellow lights and raising the allowable speed for right-hand turns on red.

However, the Miketinacs' latest effort is linked to an initiative begun last month by Brooksville resident and business owner Robert Osmond, who is seeking to collect at least 477 verifiable signatures from registered city voters to put the red-light camera question on the 2014 general election ballot.

Osmond said he is pursuing the ballot measure because he feels the council has continued to ignore the will of the city's business owners and residents.

"The council members who staunchly support the cameras don't seem to have a clue about what their constituents want," Osmond said. "They were convinced by a company that had no vested interest in the community that they would make the streets safer. I'm still waiting to see the proof of that."

Osmond, who ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in 2004, said he was encouraged to launch a political action committee after speaking with County Commissioner Jim Adkins, a staunch opponent of the cameras who recently led an effort to get the city to remove the cameras that are on county-owned property, as well as with others who oppose the devices.

"The fact that we've already collected more than half the signatures we need says something," Osmond said last week. "Since our elected officials aren't willing to take action, we're going to take it for them."

The city has earned a lot of money from the 16 cameras, which have been in operation since May 2012, operated by Sensys America. According to Florida Department of Revenue data for fiscal year 2013, the state collected $1,233,546 between July 2012 and June 2013 from Brooksville's red-light cameras, with the city's portion of each $158 fine earning the municipality $557,325. The amount paid to Sensys was also $557,325.

However, the program has come under increasing fire, not just from residents and business interests, but also from the county courts. Two Hernando judges have thrown out red-light camera cases, saying the current law violates the due process rights of citizens because a rolling right turn on red can result in two different outcomes, depending on whether an officer stops a driver or the turn is caught on camera.

On another front, the threat of voter rejection of the red-light camera program is likely to add fodder to the city's political landscape next year. With the city's present contract with Sensys set to expire Oct. 3, about a month before the general election, candidates for the three City Council seats up for grabs will be scrutinized closely, Osmond said.

"I'm certain that for some people it will be a deciding factor when choosing a candidate to support," he said. "In my opinion, it has everything to do with the future of Brooksville. We're getting a bad reputation from the cameras. And the revenue they generate isn't worth that."

Even if the council votes not to extend Sensys' contract, and the referendum is approved, legal questions remain, according to city officials.

It is possible the city would still have to keep the cameras in place until the third anniversary of when each was installed, said City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha.

"There are definitely some legal questions that have yet to be answered if that's the scenario," Norman-Vacha said. "So I guess the best way to put it is that the final solution might well end up in the hands of the attorneys."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1435.

Brooksville's red-light camera program facing increased pressure 10/25/13 [Last modified: Friday, October 25, 2013 7:34pm]
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