from the the-unbearable-red-lightness-of-being-kicked-right-the-fuck-out dept
Citizens don’t care much for red light/traffic cameras. These revenue generators do little more than turn moving (or parked) vehicles into ATMs for the governments that deploy them. Obviously, local governments love them. They love them so much they’re willing to overlook badly-broken systems, crooked manufacturers and increases in vehicle collisions.
Sometimes the citizens win the fight against red light cameras. That’s when the government’s hate for the little people really shows through. Late last year, residents of St. Charles, Missouri, showed Redflex the door by voting for a ban on camera-based traffic enforcement.
In St. Charles, Missouri, it was the county council, not a petition, that put the question of a photo ticketing ban on the ballot. County Councilman Joe Brazil came up with the measure as a means of reining in automated ticketing in St. Peters. Len Pagano, the town’s mayor, insisted it violates “local control” to allow voters to decide such an issue. They did decide by a margin of 72.6 percent that the cameras should be banned.
It’s unclear if Pagano’s relationship with traffic enforcement camera manufacturer Redflex is as close as his predecessor’s was. The former mayor, Shawn Brown, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for soliciting a bribe from the traffic camera company — threatening to withhold approval until it paid him off. Redflex’s hands were clean in this incident (not so much in other cases).
Pagano hasn’t been tied to any financial malfeasance. That doesn’t necessarily make him a friend of the common man, though. Shortly before this measure went up for public vote, Pagano told constituents he would spend their money to prevent them from enacting the ban they clearly desired.
“There is the strong potential for litigation,” Pagano warned in a letter to County Councilman Joe Brazil, the amendment’s sponsor.
“You may be raising serious constitutional questions that may take several years and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to answer.”
Pagano said his city “and other interested parties at the local and state level and in the private sector” will carefully scrutinize any actions taken by the county that “restrict municipalities’ roles and responsibilities.”
The constituents of St. Charles County have been handed a victory by the court — something that will slightly lessen the sting of having to fight a taxpayer-funded opponent just to be granted the ban taxpayers had already overwhelmingly declared they wanted.
The cameras will not return to St. Peters after Judge Pelikan decided that counties in Missouri do indeed have the power under the state constitution to regulate “any and all services and functions of any municipality” through the county charter.
“Plaintiffs incorrectly contend the charter amendment invades the province of general legislation involving public policy of the state as a whole, contending the public policy of the state of Missouri delegate directly and exclusively to the cities the authority to control traffic on municipal streets, including, as applicable here, the authority to use ‘red light cameras’ and other ‘traffic control devices,” Judge Pelikan ruled. “The county relies on its police power in conjunction with the police power of the municipalities to enact its charter amendment to serve the public good. The acts contemplated by the charter amendment are squarely within the powers granted to the county and the municipalities and are therefore valid and enforceable.”
In essence, the government claimed the public couldn’t tell it what to do through the use of charter amendments. The court says it can indeed do this and that the use of charter amendments to force the government to give the people what they actually want is perfectly constitutional. The public gets a win, but nothing is more bittersweet than the last sentence of the order, which ultimately means nothing in this context. A single party is footing the court costs for both sides, even if the wording in the order makes the situation seem far more equitable.
Each party shall bear its own costs.