More on the red light camera ruling

I said before that what happens next with the red light camera ruling is a political decision. Here’s how that’s shaping up.

City Attorney Dave Feldman said Friday’s ruling will force the city to choose from canceling the contract with American Traffic Solutions — which might cost the city $16 million — or keeping the contract in force and turning the cameras back on. A third choice would be to hold another referendum and ask voters which of the two options to choose, he said.

“We lost on the issue of the validity of the charter amendment, so what the court is saying (is), ‘OK city, now decide what you’re going to do with the contract,’ ” Feldman said. “We need to decide how we’re going to move forward and what position we’re going to take with the contract in light of the fact he’s declared the charter amendment invalid.”

Mayor Annise Parker said Friday afternoon that although she supports the use of red-light cameras and has the authority to turn them back on, she will not do so before conferring with the City Council and possibly the voters.

“The cameras are going to stay off until council is fully briefed, and we have an opportunity to discuss all of our legal options and choose one of those legal options,” the mayor said.

Complicating matters for Parker is that the city is still in a contract dispute with ATS over damages the company suffered when the city turned off the cameras.

The mayor said she and the City Council received sound legal advice last year from the city attorney, who advised that they were mandated to put the question on the November ballot.

Which is the exact opposite of what the judge said, as observed by JJ in the comments. Be that as it may, it will be very interesting to see how Council members react to this. As we know from the precinct data, the strongest opposition to red light cameras by far came from African-American neighborhoods. Republican and Anglo Democratic neighborhoods were the strongest proponents, with Latino and multicultural neighborhoods being modestly opposed. I think it’s reasonable though not certain to assume that the four African-American Council members would oppose turning the cameras back on, though the prospect of paying $16 million to ATS might mitigate against that. CM Sullivan is a known opponent of the cameras. On the flipside, CMs Lovell and Clutterbuck are known to favor the cameras, and I’d expect Pennington and Stardig to go along with their voters. That’s five probably against, four probably in favor, and four that are up for grabs. Should make for a lively debate, that’s for sure.

Putting the question of reinstating the cameras or paying off ATS up for another vote strikes me as the least messy way forward at this point. The questions then become how big a factor is the potential hit to the budget in affecting voter behavior, and how does the change in participation levels from an even-numbered year to an odd-numbered year move the numbers? The two groups with the loudest opinions are also the ones that tend to vote the most in city election years, but there’s still dropoff for each. As for the first question, the irony is that the city might argue that the voters didn’t really know what they were voting for when they supported removing the cameras, which would no doubt make Paul Bettencourt’s head explode. Nobody ever said consistency was a virtue in politics. This is going to be fun to watch, I’ll say that much.

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12 Responses to More on the red light camera ruling

  1. Charles, usually you are very good on calling out officials on both sides of the aisle when they expressly go against what they have said. I think it would be good to take a look back on what Feldman and Parker have said in the past. First of all, why isn’t one of the options the city is talking about the most obvious? File an appeal of the judge’s decision? How come that hasn’t been on the table and why hasn’t anyone asked about that? Second, is it time to say Kubosh was right? If you recall when the suit was filed Kubosh said the city initiating the suit (which was the only way ATS had standing) was an attempt to overturn the election and turn the cameras back on. Here is what Feldman said in response to that;

    “City Attorney David Feldman emphatically denied Kubosh’s charge, saying the city filed a suit preemptively in order to defend the outcome of the election.

    Feldman noted that City Council in August voted to put the referendum on the ballot based on his advice that Kubosh had followed the correct guidelines under state law for doing so.

    “We will be on the side, ultimately, of preserving the will of the people,” Feldman said.”

    So why aren’t the mayor and Feldman continuing to be on the side of preserving the will of the people?

    What about Clutterbuck?

    “In the city of Houston, I cannot envision any scenario where there would be tickets issued for running a red light as caught by a red light camera,” said Houston City Council Member Anne Clutterbuck.”

    Mayor Parker denied that the suit was a pathway to turning the cameras back on, just on how much they would have to pay ATS.

    “Mayor Annise Parker has said she will respect the will of the voters by keeping the cameras out of operation, meaning the litigation will settle how much the city will have to pay ATS to terminate the contract, which expires in 2014. If the referendum is deemed invalid, the City Council could still vote separately to terminate the contract.”

    How much more clear can it get? Now we are hearing about possibly turning the cameras back on or trying to have a “do over” on the election now thinking they might get the outcome they want. It’s time to take these politicians to the mat. Mayor Parker you said no matter what the judge said the cameras wouldn’t come back on. Mr Feldman you said you would fight to preserve the will of the people. To give up now clearly shows that this was a co ordinated effort with ATS to overturn the election this is the exact outcome you denied would happen when you were accused of orchestrating this.

  2. It certainly puts things in perspective when we go back and look at some of the statements made right after the election. Amazing what short memories we all have.

    “If we believe the will of the voters, and we here certainly do, then I heard loud and clear that they want the city to rebuild Houston through this drainage fee proposal and they want the red light cameras to go away,” Parker said.

    “Parker said Bettencourt was “speaking out of both sides of his mouth” for challenging the result of Proposition 1 and supporting the result of Proposition 3, which banned the use of red light cameras in the city. She accused him of “seeking to invalidate the will of the voters.”

    “The city is seeking judgment on how much damages it needs to pay under the contract, which is set to expire in 2014. Feldman says by taking it to federal court, it took the politics out of the issue. He says he’s confident “that a federal judge will determine the rights and obligations of the parties under the contract, and that at the end of the day the city will be in the best legal position.”

    “A spokesman for ATS promised after the election that the company would not seek to nullify the outcome of the referendum, but that’s exactly what their countersuit is seeking.

    “After the election the city asked us to stop issuing violations and we complied with their request,” company spokesman Charles Territo said in a statement. “It was only after we were sued that the issues discussed in our response became relevant. The core of this lawsuit is not about getting the cameras turned back on; this is about whether or not a contract with the city of Houston is worth the paper that it’s written on.”

    “The city has taken a very friendly approach with the ATS lawsuit,” said Mike Sullivan, a city councilman. “I don’t know that they’re being as aggressive as they should be.”

    “Feldman has strongly denied the notion that he’s collaborating with ATS and has vowed to fight for what the voters decided.”

    It is also interesting to remind ourselves that the city actually did have a termination of convenience clause in the contract and the city got rid of it to protect the camera revenue when the lege passed a sunset bill. Why isn’t anyone calling the city on their poor planning for which they now lament the results?

    Those obligations are iron clad, ATS argued, thanks to the city’s own actions. The firm pointed out that Houston did have a contract provision that would have allowed a “termination for convenience” without financial penalty. Just three days before this provision would have taken effect, the city signed a new agreement with no termination provision in an attempt to avoid a proposed ban on new red light camera contracts, House Bill 300, that passed in the state House but was blocked in the Senate.

    “The city, fearful of HB300, did not want to be forced to terminate the agreement upon the passage of a new state law and therefore, removed the termination provisions of the agreement entirely by clearly stating in the amendment that it ‘remains in effect until May 27, 2014,'” Taylor explained. “The city also removed ‘unless sooner terminated under this agreement’ phrase that appeared in the original agreement. Had the city intended to keep its termination options available to it, it could have easily done so.”

  3. Matt says:

    What kind of idiot negotiated the contract with ATS? It seems like someone needs to lose his/her job over this – a lawyer at least, but possibly others.

  4. byron schirmbeck says:

    The city, fearfull that the lege would ban the cameras purposely made it more difficult to get out of the contract. They took away their options voluntarily to side step the lege to save the camera money.

  5. byron schirmbeck says:

    ATS is trying to bully the cameras back on. I hope the city has the courage to tell them to go pound sand. Of course I still believe this was the plan all along. so get ready for flashing cameras again. I hope the city accounts for the decreased collection rate as more people offended by overturning their direction boycott paying the tickets.

    American Traffic Solutions hand delivered a letter Monday to give the City of Houston until August 1 to decide what to do. The city can either turn on the cameras or pay damages, and both actions carry negative consequences.

  6. Ron in Houston says:

    Amen Byron – surprisingly very little has been said about the appeal option. It’s almost like that’s not even on the table despite the fact that the city should try to uphold valid charter amendments.

  7. As soon as I hear Parker say she agrees with the decision I knew that wasn’t going to happen, and I backed up the DVR to make sure I heard her right. She agrees that they were wrong for letting us have a vote? Huh? If she agrees with the decision why file the suit in the first place and why would you appeal a decision you agree with? I can already see the campaign ads for Parker’s opponent and any council member that votes to turn the cameras back on. “2011 a federal judge overturns an election of the people, cut to a news clip of mayor Parker, “I agree with the decision.” It writes itself.

  8. Ron in Houston says:

    I don’t know if this is the smoking gun but the lawyer for ATS is George Hittner. Something tells me that there is some connection to Federal Judge David Hittner. Anyone know?

  9. ding ding ding, give that man a cigar. There is little doubt anymore that this was coordinated from the start. COH files suit under the guise of protecting the vote, but their filing suit was the only thing that could give ATS standing to challenge the election. Hittner’s father actually was originally assigned this suit but had to recuse himself. But Hughes and Hittner have worked together for 25 years. There is an article discussing this here.

    Glad to see Clutterbuck come out in support of the election,

    City Councilwoman Ann Clutterbuck said the people’s vote must be respected even though the process was nullified.

    “It would be a violation of the will of the people to turn them back on,” Clutterbuck said. “Even though I was a supporter of red light cameras and believe that they save lives, the people have spoken. But there’s no doubt we’ll be owing a lot of money for breach of contract.”

    Read more:

  10. byron schirmbeck says:

    ATS cameras getting shut off July 31st in Los Angeles. Police Commissioners voted 5-0 to end the contract, council failed to override their decision.

  11. Pingback: ATS wants a decision on the cameras – Off the Kuff

  12. Craig says:

    Annise Parker has lied to us. She has thumbed her nose at the more than 300,000 Houstonian voters who took the time to express their deeply felt convictions. She has cast aside the 50,000 Houstonians who signed the petition to ban the use of red light cameras. She is abandoning democracy for a tyrannical government dedicated to ripping people off while causing even more accidents.


    Now it’s “Anybody But Parker” for Mayor.

    Let’s just hope another Democrat is encouraged enough to get into the race…

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