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Government and Politics


Issues ranging from dollars & cents to citizen rights knock out traffic cams
Canton lawmakers have varied reasons for saying no to an automated ticket writing system
by WKSU's TIM RUDELL


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Tim Rudell
 
Media attention from all over Northeast Ohio was drawn to the traffic camera vote in Canton
Courtesy of Rudell
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In The Region:

About 200 traffic-ticket cameras are watching drivers in Ohio, mostly around the larger metro areas…but not in Canton.  WKSU’s Tim Rudell reports on why the Hall of Fame city is saying no to the electronic eyes.

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No go in Canton

Proponents of traffic enforcement cameras say they are about safety.  And that’s part of what Canton City Council heard before its September 17th vote on a deal with a private camera contractor.  Australian-based RedFlex, the world leader in ticket-camera operations, would have run surveillance at intersections and school zones in the city…as it does in communities all over the United States.   

But the vote came out 7-5 against. 

That’s because, beyond safety, there is also big money in video ticketing; and a number of council members didn’t like the terms of the Redflex deal.  And because: harvesting traffic-fine revenue in such a wayraised “rights” concerns.

First problem

Dan Ablett, one of the concerned citizens who filled the Council Gallery to demand a “no” vote, talked later about that first problem: that the RedFlex deal didn’t look good. Not only would the city give about half of the traffic ticket revenue to a private company, the company is foreign.  “My principle objection to this is that we’re outsourcing money and outsourcing jobs, and it’s the wrong thing to do right now.

Parallels

At almost the same time as the Canton vote, the Town Council of Cary, North Carolina dropped a contract it had had with RedFlex for five years. Cary is similar in size to Canton—and, like Canton, the 7th largest metro in its state.  Cary Council member Don Frantz says there too, money was the concern. The revenue split—in their case it was to go to support local schools--was increasingly being eaten up by administrative costs, hidden fees, and problems Cary had to handle. “In my honest opinion it was a racket.  RedFlex makes all the money, gets all the profit.  We deal with all the headaches and upset citizens, and schools get very little.”

 

Second problem

Frantz says traffic accidents at camera-watched intersections in Cary did decline after the systems went in, so the improved safety argument has some merit.  But, he says there was another parallel between his community and Canton that contributed to getting rid of RedFlex; citizens pushed-back over issues of government surveillance, privacy rights, and compromises of due process.  “A lot of them had expressed some concerns about that “big brother” aspect of it.  You know:  first its red light cameras, then its speeding cameras, and then what next.”

That was a major concern for Canton city council members who opposed the traffic camera deal…including the 5th Ward’s Kevin Fisher…“To me it’s a violation of the 4th amendment, unwarranted search and seizure; because we are taking pictures of everybody that’s going through these intersections, whether or not they’ve broken the law.” 

Fisher also said he has a problem with a change in city law that would have had to accompany a ticket-camera program for it to be able to issue fines.  Speeding and the like would be civil rather than criminal offenses.  He says while that may sound like an innocuous change, it actually turns some fundamental principles of American law upside down. “We’re going to make you guilty until proven innocent.  If you receive a bad ticket, or perhaps it was you’re car but you weren’t driving, the burden of proof is now on you to prove that you did not break the law.”

The Courts

 Around the country—and at the start of 2012 there were nearly 700 communities in 24 states with traffic enforcement cameras—few court challenges to automated enforcement systems have succeeded.  And three that reached appeals court level in Ohio failed. 

Back to the money

And, in the end, financial rather than legal concerns were more on the mind of the man who proposed the red-light cameras.  Canton Mayor William Healy went to City Council with the traffic camera idea as part of his plan for closing a multi-million dollar budget gap projected for next year. “We talked about raising taxes, but chose not to go that path.  We talked about major cuts in services.  And then we talked about alternatives for raising revenue.  This was one piece of the puzzle, of the alternative budget plan, It was a significant piece.  It would have brought in an estimated million dollars.”

Other votes

In the past year there were votes in four other northeast Ohio communities.  Ashtabula, Garfield Heights and South Euclid turned them down, and East Cleveland gave them the go ahead.  

Listener Comments:

Yes, where were these camera the past 2 days 3 idiots nearly rear ended my motorcycle?


Posted by: O (Ashland oh) on October 1, 2012 9:10AM
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