In a rare show of assertiveness, Hernando commissioners last week did their part to curb controversial red light cameras. By a unanimous vote and with no public debate, the commission withdrew permission for the city of Brooksville to put its cameras on county property.
It was a heavy-handed approach that affects just two of the five intersections outfitted with cameras in Brooksville. The city and its residents would have been better served by a public debate that should have allowed the city to present to commissioners the safety and budgetary data tied to the cameras. The commission action came with no public notice and less than an hour before Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn arrived in the chambers for a previously scheduled transportation planning meeting. Bradburn learned of the commission vote from a Tampa Bay Times reporter, not from the county.
Despite the commission's dubious method of usurping city control of a local issue, the result mirrors a growing public disdain toward automated enforcement of traffic lights.
The cameras are more about cash production than crash prevention. Over a seven-month period ending Dec. 31, violators paid more than $1.1 million for red light citations in Brooksville. The city kept $267,000 and the rest went to the state and to the camera vendor. Each ticket, issued to the vehicle owner, not the driver, carries a $158 fine if paid within 30 days. Afterward, the fine jumps to $264 with nine separate entities — including accounts for the county clerk of the court, teen court and communications equipment purchases — sharing in the extra proceeds.
Hernando commissioners are not alone in their thinking. Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, has tried unsuccessfully to get the Legislature to ban red light cameras. That cause is back again this year, championed by Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, whose husband's minivan had been issued five violations since 2010.
In Pinellas County, Clerk of the Court Ken Burke asked the city of St. Petersburg to shut off its cameras because of the bureaucratic requirements of processing the citations. That county's traffic court, incidentally, schedules two full calenders, each consisting of 30 to 40 cases, every Thursday just for red light camera citations.
"It does cause a lot of public dissatisfaction with government,'' Judge J. Thomas McGrady, chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit, said of the red light cameras.
Indeed. Locally, former School Board candidate Robert Neuhausen is trying to organize a boycott of the Florida Blueberry Festival, scheduled for downtown Brooksville in May, as retribution for the city's reliance on red light cameras as a cash grab.
The commission, under the urging of Commissioner Jim Adkins, devised its own boycott and suddenly become protective of the county rights of way at Wiscon Road and Broad Street and at Cobb Road and Jefferson Street. Commissioners instructed their attorney to notify the city that the cameras are prohibited at those county-owned locations.
The commission acted because the Brooksville City Council has been unable to offer a persuasive argument that red light cameras are an imperative public safety tool and not just an unfair financing tool extracting money from nonresidents. Regardless, the commission should have allowed the city an opportunity to present its case to the county in an open public forum rather than using this back-door maneuver.