The Brooksville City Council has an obligation to hold a November referendum asking voters about red-light cameras in the city. That idea remains in doubt after council voted 3-2 earlier this month to challenge the legality of a citizens' petition seeking the ballot question.
That council decision, following the advise of the city's legal counsel, is an insult to the 536 people who signed the petitions asking for the referendum that calls for a "prohibition of automated traffic infraction detectors (red light cameras).''
The assistant city attorney called the language vague and cited other problems including legislatively tying the hands of future council members. Certainly, one could argue that the ballot title's failure to include the words "red-light camera'' could mean traffic infraction detectors would also include police radar guns.
But, that's an argument the council members should not make. They know full well the intent of the proposed referendum — to ban red-light cameras. It is stated in both the ballot summary and in the full text of the proposed charger amendment. And it's been the mantra of Pat and Shirley Miketinac and others who began collecting the required signatures last September.
Opponents have called the red-light cameras bad for the city's image and its businesses and they characterize the cameras as a money grab disingenuously portrayed as a traffic safety enhancement. The city has never offered empirical data showing the cameras are an imperative public safety tool and other communities report mixed results. A 2013 study in Pasco County, for instance, showed a significant drop in accidents at only one of nine U.S. 19 intersections equipped with red-light cameras in the cities of Port Richey and New Port Richey.
The Miketinacs aren't the only ones seeking a referendum. The Hernando County Commission also plans a ballot question on banning red-light cameras in the county's jurisdictions even though none currently exist. The city of Brooksville has 16 cameras that won't be affected by the county referendum.
The county vote is little more than a public relations ploy, but city voters deserve a legitimate referendum. The council has until Aug. 22 to provide ballot language to the Hernando Supervisor of Elections Office. Council members shouldn't wait on a judicial ruling. Rather, council members would be wise to draft their own alternative ballot question about red-light cameras, and schedule an appropriate public hearing.
Residents who've spent nine months following the city's own rules to try to amend the charter deserve better than facing an obstructionist council or potentially being told there is too little time to make the November ballot.
"Why are we trying to thwart the will of the people?" council member Joe Bernardini recently asked.