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Red-light camera vendor offered donations to new St. Pete council members

Darden Rice took the money, but remains opposed.
Published Dec. 16, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — The Arizona operator of the city's red-light cameras is lobbying the two newest council members who may well decide the fate of the controversial program.

Darden Rice and Amy Foster both campaigned to end the program and say they remain opposed to the cameras, which take snapshots of drivers as they run red lights and mail them $158 violation notices.

While lobbying Foster and Rice during the recent election, American Traffic Solutions offered $500 donations to both women. Rice accepted the money; Foster rejected it.

Even with the angst surrounding the 22 cameras posted at 10 intersections in the city, Rice reiterated that she needed every donation for her victory — including $500 from the camera vendor.

"They wanted a meeting to discuss it," Rice said. "I will listen to everybody. I will work with people from both sides."

Rice raised nearly $119,000 — the most in the city's history for a council candidate. Camera critics, she said, shouldn't worry.

"I am opposed to red-light cameras," said Rice, who will represent District 4. "I see them as revenue generators. I'm pretty confident in my position."

"I didn't take any money from any business that has current business before the city," said Foster, who wanted to make it clear her decisions aren't influenced by campaign dollars.

She does want to hear from the administration on how the city would replace the revenue if the program ended. She also said she now believes the cameras reduce side crashes.

"I still oppose them," said Foster, who will represent District 8. "My concern has to do with public trust and the regressive nature."

Until now, the cameras have kept enough support on the council — and from Mayor Bill Foster — to continue. And the cameras will still have proponents, including council members Jim Kennedy, Karl Nurse and Bill Dudley. Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman also supports the cameras.

With the election, the red-light camera program may have lost the one vote it needed to survive. Amy Foster is replacing outgoing council member Jeff Danner, who backed red-light cameras. Without Danner, the council appears to be evenly split, putting its future in doubt.

City Hall insiders expect council member Wengay Newton, the loudest camera critic, to again bring the program up for a vote in January.

Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow on Twitter @ markpuente.

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