Arlington City Council member Robert Rivera can rattle off scores of reasons why his constituents think the city should pull the plug on its red-light cameras. They worry about Big Brother's growing omniscience and the privatization of policing, or object to the government making a revenue grab while cloaking it in public safety measure. Some just have a gut feeling that it's unconstitutional.
Rivera doesn't formally endorse any of those sentiments, which, though they have been echoing across the country for a decade, have failed to slow the rapid adoption of the technology by cash-strapped local governments. His stated reason for floating a proposal to abolish red-light cameras in Arlington is more pragmatic and thus less easy to dismiss as the product of the populist fringe. Arlington's system simply isn't fair.
Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright has repeatedly refused Arlington's entreaties to block the vehicle registrations of red-light scofflaws, saying that cities are responsible for collecting their own fines. (In a similar display of chutzpah, Collin County Tax Assessor Kenneth Maun rebuffed similar advances by the NTTA.) Because violations caught by red-light cameras are civil offenses that can't go on credit reports or driving records, there are no consequences for ignoring the tickets, meaning the upstanding citizens who actually pay them are suckers.
However carefully Rivera crafted his arguments, his proposal fell with a thud when he brought it before council last week. It will discuss the matter again in October, but with the cameras bringing in roughly $2 million in revenue per year, the chance that Rivera's colleagues will change their minds is roughly the same that they'll start distributing copies of the Constitution with Open Carry Tarrant County.
But it may not be up to the City Council. Veteran Tea Party activists Faith Bussey and Kelly Cannon are pushing to amend the city's charter to abolish the city's red-light cameras.
Bussey feels that Arlington's red-light program is problematic for many reasons, not least of which that it's operated by a vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems. She describes Redflex as "private company that's using the city to shakedown taxpayers. It's wrong."
She's found plenty of agreement. "The response has been huge on our side," Bussey says of her and Cannon's early efforts.
To get the charter amendment on the ballot, Bussey and Cannon will have to convince 5 percent of Arlington's 185,823 registered voters (9,292) to sign a petition calling for a referendum, and then convince at least half of the voters who show up at the polls in May to vote against red-light cameras.
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It won't be a cakewalk, but Bussey and Cannon have already lined up a couple of dozen volunteers to canvass polling places during the gubernatorial voting, and it's hard to imagine many people not being willing to sign their petition. Red-light cameras, like toll roads, are loathed by the ACLU left and the Tea Party right alike.
There's also a precedent. Houston voters abolished their red-light cameras in 2010, and at least a couple of its suburbs followed suit. It's been more of a trickle than a trend, but those cases suggest that, when there's an activist is sufficiently committed to getting something on the ballot, red-light cameras are toast.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.