By Betsy Dolan
Admitting that a citizen petition to ban the use of red light cameras was disqualified because of a technicality, the Sugar Land City Council has backed the creation of a citizen task force that will study the issue and make a recommendation on whether the program should continue.
The petition, which was spearheaded by H.F. Van Der Grinten, a long time opponent of the City’s red light camera program, was submitted to the city secretary on April 19 with 3,074 signatures. Van Der Grinten had hoped the petition would ultimately put the issue to a vote in November.
After a review, the City determined that the petition did not meet certain legal requirements and was invalidated. The information was presented at the June 4 city council meeting.
Due to the number of signatures on the petition, City Manager Allen Bogard recommended the creation of a 7-10 member task force that will spend three months studying the effectiveness of red light cameras.
“The task force will conduct an independent review of the red light camera program and recommend elimination, modification or to continue the program in its current form,” Bogard said.
Meanwhile, a disappointed Van Der Grinten issued a press release urging those that signed the petition to contact their city council members and demand action.
“The petty technicalities raised by the City Secretary do not change the fact that the people clearly want to vote on this issue and such a vote should be allowed”, Van Der Grinten wrote. “The only task this task force is handling is pushing the issue beyond election day.”
Byron Schirmbeck, an attorney with Texas Campaign for Liberty, who claims to have been involved in every red light camera petition and election in Texas, said that city councils will often employ “delaying and bullying” tactics.
“This isn’t about red light cameras anymore. It is about a government denying its citizens their right to vote.” Schirmbeck said. “Sugar Land knows that no election in Texas has ever approved of these automatic ticket cameras and they get tossed out by as much as 77% every time the people get a say.”
Bogard and Mayor James Thompson mentioned continued support for the program from the Sugar Land Police Department and their hope that the citizens can learn the facts about the red light camera program.
“I’ve heard people mention tonight that there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. That is absolutely not true. There is no statistical data to prove that there are more rear-end collisions nor were yellow lights shortened so we could collect more fines,” Mayor Thompson said.
After program expenses are paid and half of the net income is given to the State of Texas, Sugar Land will clear about $210,000 this year from fines collected from red light cameras, Bogard told the council. He reiterated that those funds represent .3% of the city’s general fund budget and must be used for traffic enforcement purposes.
The red light camera program was approved in 2007 as a way for Sugar Land to become one of the safest cities in America. There are currently four intersections with red light cameras: Eldridge and West Airport; 90A and Dairy Ashford; Highway 6 and SW Freeway and Highway 6 and Lexington. The city has a contract with American Traffic Solutions to install and operate the red light cameras.
Bogard recommended that the task force conduct its meetings in accordance with the Open Meetings Act and provide an opportunity for extensive public input. City Council is expected to take action on the appointment of the task force on June 18.