Sometimes the most valid option is retreat. The Clearwater City Council is expected today to vote to forgo for now signing any contract to install red-light cameras. Given the myriad of legal questions surrounding the money-raising technology across Florida, that's not just prudent. It may well be the most fiscally conservative choice.
In most cities and counties, the decision to install red-light cameras has been wrapped in rhetoric about improving traffic safety and preventing accidents. But in these economic times, they also have become profitmaking schemes for local governments — and legally dubious ones at that.
Defense lawyers have successfully questioned some camera vendors' shoddy chain of evidence practices. Others have undermined the cameras' use by noting the unequal fines between tickets issued by camera systems vs. law enforcement officers.
The result is that some red-light camera systems designed to raise significant revenue are falling far short. That's a double hit on governments. They aren't collecting revenue they'd planned for, and they're scrounging for legal fees. And the Legislature, which considered banning red-light cameras this year, is likely to revisit the issue next year.
Clearwater — unlike some other Tampa Bay communities — has decided to just wait to see what happens. How refreshingly pragmatic.