Aug 16

Red Light Cameras: Ok, we’re shutting them off again…

Update 2: (August 19th, 11pm):

As expected, Council Member Lovell blocked the repeal bill from being voted on.  Since the procedural delay is a one-time option, both items will face a vote on Wednesday.

Update (August 17th, 7pm):

Council Member Sue Lovell used a procedural maneuver to delay the vote on shutting the cameras off.  It is expected she will do the same to the repeal bill at the special session Friday.  This would put both items back on the agenda next Wednesday.

Original Post:

News broke over the weekend that Houston Mayor Annise Parker had placed an agenda item on this Wednesday’s council meeting related to the red light cameras.

Red Light CameraThis is after a packed public speakers session last Tuesday in the council chambers, where citizen after citizen accused her and the council of ignoring the will of the voters by turning them back on.

As the details filled in, it became clear that the issue now facing the council members this week is a vote to shut the cameras off yet again, and “roll the dice” with American Traffic Solutions (ATS) over any termination fees related to the contract.

Today, Mayor Parker issued a call for a special session of the city council this Friday, where she will present an ordinance to repeal authorization of photographic enforcement.  She is pressuring council members to not delay the vote, and get this passed during the special session.

This is the right thing to do, and probably what they should have done last November.  By forcing ATS’ hand by saying they cannot operate the cameras legally in the city, ATS will have no choice but to deal with the city in good faith.

Currently, ATS threatens Houston with a breach of contract, originally to run through May 2014, and penalties of up to $25 Million, as well as costs of removing the equipment.  They are using every tactic they can with a Federal Judge to avoid losing this contract.  This is after losing contracts in Los Angeles, Baytown and College Station in the last couple of years.  They seem to take an egotistical approach to try to block the truth about the cameras, and then block their removal once they’re installed.

The best thing the city can do is get ATS to the negotiating table.  If the offer to end the contract is unreasonable, plus ATS wants the city to pay for removal, the city should tell them that city employees will remove them, and the cost of repairing and restoring the public right of way will be the same as the penalty.  This would mean neither party wins.

This contract is written in a way that was not in the city’s best interest, and those who negotiated the contract are no longer here.  ATS needs to play fair, and be reasonable with their demands.  Otherwise, the next court they go into may throw the book at them.

For the city’s sake, let’s hope that they do.

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