Editorial: Let voters decide red-light cameras

Published Sept. 11, 2014

Direct democracy got caught at a stop light in Brooksville and the result unfairly denies voters a chance to decide in November if red-light cameras should be outlawed in the city.

Now a special interest-funded nonprofit has joined the fray over trying to keep voters in Brooksville from considering a citizen referendum on red-light cameras. Not that the City Council needed the help, necessarily. A council majority already voted to challenge the validity of the citizens' petition, effectively blowing a deadline to get the matter before voters this election cycle.

Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson needed referendum language from the city by Aug. 22 to ensure inclusion on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. It didn't happen. Instead of honoring the will of petition organizers and the 536 people who signed documents — per the requirements of the City Charter — a City Council majority decided in June to turn to the courts to try to toss out the requested referendum language as too vague.

The legal fight has drawn the attention of a newly created nonprofit, Keep Florida Roads Safe, that is tied to the red-light camera company, American Traffic Solutions, according to a report by WTSP-Ch. 10. The advocacy group filed lawsuits mimicking the city's legal stance.

The group's purpose, according to its articles of incorporation, is to advocate "for regulations and laws aimed at making Florida roads safer; mobilizing Florida voters to support road safety related measures and educating Floridians on the importance of responsible driving and road safety.''

What disingenuous nonsense. This is about protecting a lucrative business arrangement in which red-light camera operators take almost one-fourth of each $158 payment from ticketed drivers. ATS doesn't even hold a contract with the city of Brooksville. The 16 cameras in Brooksville are operated by Sensys America and they produced more than $550,000 each to the company and the city in their first year of operation.

Across the state, total red-light camera revenue increased from $37.6 million in 2010-11 to $118.9 million in 2012-13, according to a state report released earlier this year.

Opponents call the red-light cameras a detriment to the city of Brooksville's image and to its businesses and characterize the cameras as a money grab disguised as a public safety enhancement. The city has never offered empirical data showing the cameras are an imperative traffic 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.

If the red-light cameras are vital to maintaining safe streets in the city of Brooksville, then why is a council majority and now a red-light camera company afraid to ask voters to bless the cameras' continued use? Could it be that profits are the true motivation and neither wants to damage their bottom line?

It's a question that rightly should go to Brooksville's voters to answer.