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FEATURE NEWS

MONROE CITIZENS
TELL CITY HALL
We want vote on red light
robo-ticket cameras
Signature petitions turned in
seeking public vote

May 24, 2011




Ty Balascio, of Seedsofliberty.org at left, turns in 1,226 signatures on red light robo-cam petitions to Brad Feilberg at Monroe City Hall Monday May 23, 2011. CLICK TO ENLARGE


Citizen activist Tim Eyman starring as “Camera Head.” Photo taken in Lynnwood on day Eyman turned in the last batch of signatures for Mukilteo's initiative which 71% of voters approved in November. CLICK TO ENLARGE
(MONROE, WA) -- From Walmart deals done arguably under the radar to become faits accompli before townsfolk could mount a serious challenge, to plopping down robot cameras on streets that will spit out $124 speeding tickets faster than Sugar Ray Leonard could pop a left jab, Monroe citizens are telling the mayor and city council these days they are off base and out of line.

Seedsofliberty.org, a conservative group that supports Tea Party and similar right-of-center issues and causes, appears to have hit a Top-40 across the political spectrum home run with it’s “hold-on-just-a-minute” backlash to the red-light robo-camera issue in Monroe.

Like the Walmart issue, robo-cameras have some folks less than happy with Monroe city hall.

SkyValleyChronicle.com was the first newspaper in Washington State to report back on Sept. 3, 2010 that Monroe was going to deploy the money-making spy cams in a deal with an Arizona company. You’ll find that original story HERE

On Monday Ty Balascio of Monroe, head of Seedsofliberty.org, delivered to Monroe City Hall 1,226 signatures of Monroe voters (they only needed 999) on Monroe Initiative No. 1 saying this red light robo camera thing is something citizens want to vote on – something they never had the chance to do with Walmart.

The measure would require Monroe to remove the cameras that are now up and ask for voter approval before installing any more cameras. The measure would also reduce the monetary fines from the tickets generated by such cameras.

“Earlier this morning I met with Brad Feilberg at Monroe City Hall to deliver 1226 signatures from Monroe citizens who share our concern regarding automated ticket-cameras,” said Balascio Monday.

“With a Facebook following of nearly 100 interested participants, and a core group of 6 dedicated signature gatherers we reached the neighborhoods as well as the business districts. Many of the local businesses also stepped up to support the effort by placing the initiative out for customers to sign. Without exception every person we spoke with cared greatly about the safety of Monroe streets. Most of those people believed that Monroe can have safe streets without paying an Arizona company five figures each month to place our citizens under surveillance,” added Balascio.

Balascio said the process moves now to the next chapter, meaning that when the signatures are certified the group “will encourage our city leaders to adopt the measure as written. Barring that, we look forward to seeing the issue go to voters this fall.”

But here’s the 40-pound fly in the ointment: like Walmart, which is waltzing into the community getting just about everything it wanted from city hall and in the way it wanted it without taxpayers voting on that controversial issue, Monroe taxpayers could also get short changed in having a real say on the red light robo-camera issue.

SURPRISE: There’s a move afoot to deny citizens even a vote on the issue

Balascio told SkyValleyChronicle.com the reason those petitions were turned in Monday morning somewhat ahead of when they planned to do it is because they found out last Friday that at least one company that sells those cameras to cities does not want citizens to have a right to vote on them – so their group had to move a bit faster than planned here in Monroe to get those petitions in.

American Traffic Solutions – which promotes itself as “your friend in public safety” at http://www.atsol.com and manages those red light robo-cameras in Wenatchee - filed an action in Chelan County, along with the city of Wenatchee, to stop citizens from getting a vote on the cameras.

And last Friday ATS and Wenatchee got an injunction to stop the red light camera issue from going to a vote.

The Wenatchee World reported Saturday here that Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges ruled that a proposed measure for voter approval of the cameras was unlawful.

“He said the state Legislature specifically gave the power to regulate red-light camera use to city councils, and that such council action is not subject to direct voter approval,” the World reported.

Bridges’ ruling also prohibits Matt Erickson of Wenatchee from submitting voter signatures to the Chelan County auditor so the initiative could be placed on a ballot.

Bridges ruled, however, that Erickson might continue to collect signatures so he could submit them to the county auditor if Bridges’ ruling is overturned.

That ruling followed two hours of testimony from Erickson, Wenatchee city attorney Steve Smith and Vanessa Power, a Seattle attorney representing ATS.

It is worth noting the judge was not happy about how he had to rule in the case.

“I’m not really happy with this,” Bridges said from the bench after the ruling, and he noted that his job is “to follow the law.” He addressed Erickson: “I have the utmost respect for you and your passion,” according to the Wenatchee World report.

The judge’s ruling ended a lawsuit filed in March by the city and ATS seeking to end Erickson’s grass roots efforts to place Wenatchee Initiative No. 1 on the ballot.

The lawsuit was specifcially filed to thwart Erickson’s efforts, which began in January, to collect enough signatures so voters could determine if the city should use red-light cameras.

In 2009 the city had enacted an ordinance authorizing city leaders to set up cameras to catch people are running red lights.

SO NOW WHAT HAPPENS IN MONROE?

It turns out the Monroe City Council does not have to give people a chance to vote on the issue at all.

“Well, this is an interesting question of law,” says Balascio. “As I understand it, and I'm no lawyer, there are two official options. The first option is the city can look at the wording on the initiative and say. ‘You know what? We’re going to adopt this as law.’ That’s probably unlikely. The second option is they look over the results, and if they’re (the signatures) certified and they vote to put this on the next ballot, which would probably be the primary in a few months.”

Balascio says the third and last contingency as he sees it is that the city could say, ‘Well, we see that the results are certified but we don’t want to put this on the ballot so sue us.”

Monroe city ofcials say they want to implement the “speed violation technology” made by REDFLEX Traffic Systems in an effort to get drivers to slow down in and around schools.

Redflex, during contract talks with the city, sent an employee out to do a traffic “safety study” in certain areas of Monroe.

“I can’t speak to that person’s qualifications (to do such a study), what I can say is that the data that they (Redflex) uncovered was in sharp contrast to the data that the city had when they performed traffic studies in similar areas,” said Balascio.

“So there was a large discrepancy in the data and I queried about it a few times. I didn’t get a really clear answer (as to why there was a discrepancy).”

CAMERAS WILL THWART DRUNK DRIVERS? YA GOTTA BE KIDDING, SAYS BALASCIO

The other thing Balascio and his supporters are adamant about is this: “I have not seen a city leader yet that can convince me these cameras are actually going to stop a drunk driver.”

There is some data to support the position that surveillance cameras of various types in various positions in a crime area have little to no effect in reducing criminal behavior and in some cases may simply shift criminal behavior to other locations.

Drunk drivers, according to numerous cases of fatal and non fatal accidents, have been shown to rarely pay heed to stop lights, cautionary signs, cameras, police cars in hot pursuit or even traffic spikes on pavement that blow out tires.

“I’m trying to make the argument that our city streets are less safe with these things in place. Imagine a police officer seeing somebody swerving as they are driving with one knee and texting…a police officer can take action right there (and get the driver off the road). A camera may not even consider that a violation,” says Balascio.

“Chief Quenzer (Monroe Police Chief Tim Quenzer) said that these cameras would free up our officers to do other stuff. Well, the inverse of that statement means that we will have fewer officers on our streets,” added Balascio.

He thinks there are more productive public safety initiatives the city could be involved in rather than spending $4,850 per camera per month. With six cameras installed, that’s $29,000 and change each month that Redflex invoices the city.

“That’s whole lot of money and that’s a whole lot of tickets that cannot be justified,” concluded Balascio.




ADDENDUM: Seedsofliberty.org says since the city of Monroe is classified as a noncharter code city (just like Mukilteo is) it is subject to the following regarding the red light robo-cam issue:

RCW 35A.11.100
Initiative and referendum — Exercise of powers.

... the powers of initiative and referendum in noncharter code cities shall be exercised in the manner set forth for the commission form of government in RCW 35.17.240 through 35.17.360, as now or hereafter amended.


And so the city is subject to this:

RCW 35.17.260
Legislative — Ordinances by initiative petition.

Ordinances may be initiated by petition of registered voters of the city filed with the commission. If the petition accompanying the proposed ordinance is signed by the registered voters ... and if it contains a request that, unless passed by the commission, the ordinance be submitted to a vote of the registered voters of the city, the commission shall either:

(1) Pass the proposed ordinance without alteration within twenty days after the county auditor's certificate of sufficiency has been received by the commission; or

(2) Immediately after the county auditor's certificate of sufficiency for the petition is received, cause to be called a special election to be held on the next election date, as provided in *RCW 29.13.020, that occurs not less than forty-five days thereafter, for submission of the proposed ordinance without alteration, to a vote of the people unless a general election will occur within ninety days, in which event submission must be made on the general election ballot.


It is for this reason that the Municipal Research & Services Center writes on page 14, #5 (http://www.mrsc.org/Publications/irg06.pdf):

If the county auditor determines that the number of signatures is sufficient, then the city council has two options. The first is for the city council to pass the proposed ordinance without alteration within 20 days after the county auditor's certificate of sufficiency has been received by the council.

The second is to submit the measure to a vote of the people.





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