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Sue Carlton: Tampa's red-light standoff yields to revenue solution

Hey, wasn't there supposed to be a big showdown Thursday at the Tampa City Council meeting?

Weren't council members going to square off with the mayor in a real cliffhanger over red-light cameras?

Would the city save this public safety program that officials praise? Or would the cameras end up as casualties in a political standoff?

Because, seriously, since the Hillsborough County Commission gave up its days of public preachings, dustups and the occasional lawsuit/indictment, it's like trying to find something on TV after the finale of Breaking Bad.

To recap the drama: In the two years red-light cameras have been up in Tampa to catch drivers who plow through intersections regardless, both crashes and tickets have declined.

Citizens are changing their ways, police Chief Jane Castor recently reported to City Council members — who all agreed that, yep, red-light cameras have been good for this city.

So, plot twist: The City Council then voted 4-3 against renewing the contract with the camera vendor — a vote that had not a whit to do with whether the cameras work.

Those who voted nay wanted to know that at least some of the city's take of each $158 ticket — nearly $1.64 million last year — would go to traffic and safety improvements instead of the general fund.

Council members reasonably reasoned that committing that money thusly could deflect criticism that the cameras are nothing but a greedy municipal money grab.

Clearly feeling dissed by Mayor Bob Buckhorn on this point, the bulk of the council killed off the cameras — at least, until they were to come up again Thursday.

Would the mayor play ball?

At first, this was not clear. Buckhorn initially said he would work to reach an agreement and try to "make them feel more comfortable" about how the money was being used for public safety.

Then, in an interview with a TV station on the council's no-vote, he was quoted as saying this was no time to "showboat" and mentioned it was an election year.

Which did not sound like everyone would necessarily be singing kumbaya at the next meeting, held a mere three days before the camera contract would end.

But — plot twist again! — top Buckhorn aides met with concerned council members and came to Thursday's meeting. It was official: The mayor would commit 25 percent of the revenue from citations to the very sort of transportation improvements council members wanted. (One councilman previously said that they could have had him at 15.)

The mayor's people brought maps. They answered questions. They assured council members there would be no Florida Lottery-type "shell game" of artfully moving money around.

At least one council member sent thanks the mayor's way, and they had a small laugh about his up-for-re-election dig. Chairman Charlie Miranda referred to some drivers being "half loco in the cabeza."

But really it was your basic government meeting, a dull slog toward a solution sans power plays. They voted 6-1 to keep the cameras for two more years, a nice righting of the ship by all involved.

And what had been a simmering political drama became but a hiccup. Not exactly House of Cards stuff, but boring is probably best when it comes to getting government business done.

Sue Carlton: Tampa's red-light standoff yields to revenue solution 04/03/14 [Last modified: Thursday, April 3, 2014 8:28pm]
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