By S. Barot
Every Monday, a lone man stands outside the Sugar Land Municipal Court and distributes flyers to those paying their red light camera violations. He is Helwig F. Van Der Grinten, Founder of the Houston Coalition Against Red Light Cameras.
“I’m opposed to automated red light cameras because they are unfair to the driving public,” said Van Der Grinten, a New Territory resident. “They do not reduce accidents.”
His biggest grievance is with the notices sent out to the violators. Van Der Grinten believes the notices are misleading as they say that failure to pay the fine within the time allowed will cause the matter to be submitted to a law firm for collections and may result in the County Tax Assessor-Collector refusing to register the violator’s vehicle, which will prevent them from registering or selling their vehicle.
Sugar Land Police Chief Doug Brinkley spoke to The Star and said the Fort Bend County Tax Assessor-Collector office has the option of whether to enforce the hold or not – which is why the fine says the word “may.”
“We have entered into an agreement with the state and the Department of Motor Vehicles that if you don’t pay your violation, the state will enforce a hold,” Brinkley said. “It is up to each county’s tax assessor whether or not they will oblige the hold, but the hold is in the system.”
In other words, at the state-level, the holds remain until the violation has been paid. If a hold is pending, the vehicle owner must apply for registration in person, as the mail and online options are no longer available to them until the hold has been removed.
And if citizens think that it is okay to not pay their red light camera fines because they can still get registration done in person, think again.
Paying the fines is not optional, Brinkley said. “We are currently working to submit delinquent fines to collections,” Brinkley said.
He also added that Sugar Land is exploring partnership opportunities with Fort Bend County, but for now the city only has an agreement with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The current tussle between Van Der Grinten and Sugar Land is his desire to distribute anti-RLC materials inside the Municipal Court. He sent a letter to Brinkley requesting that he be allowed to be inside the building.
Van Der Grinten’s literature is to inform the public that the “coercive language” used by the red light contractor in their notices of violation should not be misunderstood. He requests that the public should refuse to pay the fine as an act of civil disobedience in protest against what he calls an “unfair method of law enforcement.”
Brinkley said that it’s Van Der Grinten’s Constitutional Right to be on public property on the sidewalk, but he cannot be inside as it is disruptive to those conducting business.
“He’s allowed to pass out literature outside and he’s allowed to talk to anyone coming and going,” Brinkley said. “It’s a public building but it doesn’t give you absolute right to do whatever you want to do.”
Van Der Grinten also believes that red light cameras are a “money making scheme.” The Star investigated into how much the City actually makes from red light camera violations.
Spokesperson Doug Adolph told The Star in an email that revenue from the fines had averaged at .3 percent of the city’s total budget – which is less than $400,000 annually.
Brinkley also added 50 percent goes to the state and the other 50 percent comes to the city, after having paid vendors like American Traffic Solutions and overtime pay for officers. said the department is looking at other locations that may be suitable for red light cameras, and they are here to stay at least until the next legislative session.
As for Van Der Grinten, he will continue to pass out his literature outside of the Municipal Court building.
“I believe the real reason for them to not let me inside the building is because they find the content of my literature to be disruptive, not the fact that I’m handing it out,” he said.