KENNETH CITY — A circuit judge has ordered Kenneth City and the company that oversees its red-light cameras to turn over the names of violators to the St. Petersburg Times.
The Times sued the town and American Traffic Solutions last month after both refused to release the names, saying to do so would be a violation of the federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act. That was an argument that Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Anthony Rondolino did not buy.
"There is … clear evidence that the law was not intended to shield people from public access to information about their traffic infractions," Rondolino wrote. Rondolino noted that the federal law specifically exempts information about a driver's vehicle accidents or violations from protection against disclosure.
"The ruling is pretty much what I expected," Kenneth City Mayor Teresa Zemaitis said. Zemaitis had said before the suit was filed that she believed the information to be public. But, she said, it was necessary to have a court rule so the town would be protected against possible liability for disclosing the information.
St. Petersburg lawyer George Rahdert, who represented the Times, said the decision shows the commitment of Florida courts to open government. In this case, Rahdert said, Kenneth City has hired an out-of-state, private company to police citizens in the form of citations for running red lights. The delegating of police authority to outside companies is becoming more common. It's "vitally" important, Rahdert said, that the public be able to monitor those companies.
Kenneth City became the first Pinellas municipality to approve red-light cameras in November 2009. The town hired ATS, based in Arizona, to install and monitor cameras at three of the town's five traffic-lighted intersections. The cameras started running Oct. 1 and Kenneth City began issuing citations Oct. 31.
Kenneth City records show the town and ATS issued an estimated 1,300 warnings in October. There were 690 citations in November and 592 in December.
Since Kenneth City voted to install the cameras, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Oldsmar and South Pasadena have followed suit.
Hillsborough County and Temple Terrace already have the cameras and Tampa is taking bids on a system. New Port Richey signed a contract with ATS in October. Brooksville's City Council voted in August to kill its red-light program after receiving complaints.
Proponents of the cameras argue they improve safety and reduce crashes. Opponents argue that they do not improve safety and are merely cash cows for the governments that install them.
Reach Anne Lindberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.