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You can’t always get what you want

But you can always complain about getting what you want.

A little over a month ago, Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced she was turning the red-light cameras back on and declared she did not need the City Council’s approval to do it.

Then on Saturday, just three weeks after the city began issuing citations again, she released a resolution seeking the council’s endorsement to turn them back off and fight the camera vendor in court over breach of contract damages.

The story the resolution tells is that settlement negotiations broke down when American Traffic Solutions walked away from the table, leaving Parker little option but to fight.

But to others, it whiffs of politics even though the mayor has no well-funded election opponent in November.

“She’s running scared, that’s all,” said the Rev. Robert Jefferson, a critic of the cameras and leader of Houston Ministers Against Crime.

There’s another Ben Hall sighting in the story. The man does have a talent for getting reporters to care about what he says, I’ll give him that. As for the Rev. Jefferson, I’m with Campos. Who is she running scared from?

Hearing during arguments that ATS will come right back into court upon passage of the resolution, City Attorney David Feldman said he will discuss with the mayor going one step further: pulling the resolution from Wednesday’s agenda and reposting it next week as a repeal of the ordinance authorizing the cameras’ use.

That way, said Feldman, the city could bring the use of cameras to a close while litigation continues instead of putting it in legal limbo between the resolution expressing intent and an ordinance outlawing the cameras’ use.

The mayor’s current path on the cameras has opponents skeptical of the purity of her motives on two fronts. First, the resolution forces council to choose three months before Election Day between disregarding a contract that could cost the city $25 million in damages or disregarding the will of the voters who rejected the cameras last year. And as a resolution, council’s endorsement would be non-binding, giving the mayor an out to turn the cameras on yet again if the city fares poorly in court.

“She didn’t consult with us to turn them on,” District D Councilwoman Wanda Adams said. “Now, all of a sudden, you need a resolution to cut them off. It doesn’t make sense.” Adams said she wants to know before Wednesday’s council meeting why the mayor is not sending council a repeal of the ordinance authorizing the use of red-light cameras instead of a non-binding resolution.

“I just don’t want it to be fluff,” Adams said.

I’ll stipulate that all of this is basically about politics, but then so is all of the chatter in this story. At the bottom of all this is a contract dispute. Vote or no vote, ordinance or no ordinance, the city cannot walk away from its deal with ATS without paying them some amount of money. ATS is rattling its sword about how much it wants, Mayor Parker is making her own statement, and either they come to an agreement or Judge Hughes will come to one for them. Everything else is theater. Stace has more.

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3 Comments

  1. Whatever her motivation is, I still say if the cameras are finally turned off and steps are made to physically remove them I will be the first in line to thank the mayor. I don’t get to vote in Houston so how I would vote doesn’t matter. The good news is the ordinance that the cameras operate under is scheduled for a council vote on being repealed on Friday. If the ordinance is repealed the cameras could not operate again without council approving the ordinance again even if the mayor decided they should come back on again. If the ordinance is repealed I believe it would be the death nail as I have a hard time see the council voting to re instate the ordinance. I think they should repeal the ordinance then pass another ordinance that levies a daily fine for any privately owned non operational traffic control equipment in the city right of way after 30 days.

  2. […] Chron had another story about Mayor Parker’s more aggressive stance on the issue. The city contends that it canceled its contract with ATS in mid-November when Parker […]