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St. Petersburg Times sues Kenneth City for names of accused red light runners

ST. PETERSBURG — The St. Petersburg Times on Thursday sued Kenneth City and the company that oversees the town's red light cameras for access to the names of people suspected of running red lights.

Filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, the lawsuit accuses the town and American Traffic Solutions Inc. of violating Florida's open records law by refusing to disclose the names.

Kenneth City Mayor Teresa Zemaitis said she believes the information is public and should be turned over to the Times. The town attorney has asked ATS to provide the information, but the company has refused.

Zemaitis said she is also frustrated because the company keeps most of the information. The mayor said she has asked ATS for information concerning such things as the number of violations caused by right turns on red.

"I've been unable to get information," Zemaitis said. "That's worrisome to me."

Charles Territo, vice president of communication for ATS, said in an e-mailed statement: "As stated in our previous letter to the Times, we have concerns that the information requested by the paper would violate the Drivers Privacy Protection Act. We look forward to the courts clarifying whether or not we are legally allowed to release the names of violators."

Kenneth City became the first Pinellas municipality to approve red light cameras in November 2009. The town hired ATS, a Kansas corporation based in Arizona, to install and monitor cameras at three of Kenneth City's five traffic-lighted intersections. The cameras started running Oct. 1, but only warnings were issued for the first month. The town began issuing citations beginning Nov. 1.

ATS does almost all the work related to the cameras, from providing pictures and tapes of those suspected of running red lights to issuing the tickets and collecting the fines. Kenneth City police officers log onto a computer to look at the pictures and tapes. They then click a button to confirm a violation has occurred. ATS takes it from there.

Kenneth City police Chief Douglas Pasley said the town and ATS issued an estimated 1,300 warnings in October and 690 citations in November. The Times asked for the names of those who received warnings and citations and the names of those who were not sent citations, but both the town and ATS refused.

Kenneth City police Cpl. Thomas Goldberg first refused, saying, "I am unable to give you the information that you requested on the red light camera violators. I do not believe that it would be legal for me to give out the violators' names."

ATS twice refused, saying the records are not public and that disclosing the names would violate the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act.

But Times attorney Anne Arsenault said that law does not apply to those who violate the law. Records related to driving violations are public records under state law and are not entitled to protection under the Drivers Privacy Act, she said.

Since Kenneth City voted to install the cameras, four other Pinellas municipalities — St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Oldsmar and South Pasadena — have followed suit.

Hillsborough County and Temple Terrace already have the cameras and the city of Tampa is taking bids on a system. Elsewhere in the bay area, New Port Richey signed a contract with ATS in October. The Brooksville City Council voted in August to kill its red light program after receiving complaints about it.

A recent St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 telephone poll showed that 64 percent of 600 Pinellas and Hillsborough residents who were polled say they support the installation of red light surveillance cameras. The telephone poll had a margin or error of plus or minus 4 percent.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

St. Petersburg Times sues Kenneth City for names of accused red light runners 12/30/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 30, 2010 10:01pm]
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