Judge to allow City Council to vote on red light cams

August 16, 2011 3:10:14 AM PDT
By the end of this week, Houston's red light cameras could be turned off. A lot of that has to do with a ruling that came down Monday evening from a federal judge.

The company that operates the cameras, American Traffic Solutions, asked a federal judge to intervene and prevent the cameras from being turned off, but Monday night, Judge Hughes denied the request, at least not until the upcoming Houston City Council meeting.

ATS says this on-again, off-again scenario is costing them money, that they're having to re-engineer cameras each time and it's adding to the confusion.

"Can you imagine if we changed the speed limit every single day on a highway? No one would ever know how to conform their conduct to the law. Here the mayor, because of political whim, she keeps changing her mind. One day the cameras are on and one day the cameras are off. How can anybody know what the rules are? It's ridiculous," ATS attorney Andy Taylor said.

But Judge Hughes said he won't interfere before City Council meets this week. An agenda item includes a resolution that would turn the cameras back off, at least until the legal battle runs its course. It's a fight that started when the Kubosh brothers petitioned for use of the red light cameras to go on the ballot last year. They thought they won.

"We never expected to be here at this point in time. We thought an election mattered and so we thought it was over last November," Paul Kubosh said.

Councilwoman Sue Lovell, a longtime supporter of the cameras, says she didn't expect Mayor Parker to put the issue in front of council members, and no one knows how a cash-strapped city can pay for any damages if the cameras are turned off.

"Whatever the damages are, and I've heard the amount of $25 million thrown out there, I don't know where we'll find that funding without having to make some really, really difficult decisions again," Lovell said.

City Attorney Dave Feldman says there have been some negotiations to settle the contract with ATS, but the company wanted $20 million.

"We simply don't believe under any set of circumstances that we owe them the kind of money they are claiming that we owe," Feldman said.

The city won't say exactly what it offered in return, but Feldman adds council could altogether repeal the ordinance that allows red light cameras in Houston.

"I seem to get that message loud and clear from ATS, that they want finality and I think we need to give that to them," Feldman said.

"Don't you think the people of Houston want some finality, too?" we asked him.

"Absolutely, absolutely," he replied.

The red light camera issue has some residents on the fence.

"I could argue both sides of it. It's probably a little bit of invasion [and] a little bit of unfair advantage, but it is people run a lot of red lights in Houston. It's pretty dangerous," driver Jeff Gaines said.

Council is expected to vote on the issue on Wednesday, and ATS says it will resubmit their request if council members pass the resolution.


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