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On Monroe’s robo-ticket cameras, government that’s not listening, Arizona players and how you get your municipal fine turned into a consumer debt

February 01, 2011

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

Monreo signature petition Re: robo-cams to tocket speeders. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Seeds of Liberty letter to Monroe Mayor and city council. CLICK TO ENLARGE
(MONROE, WA) -- Interviewing Washington’s anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman is a bit like riding a 1500 pound bull at the rodeo. You strap yourself in and simply try to hang on, hopefully getting an intelligent question in between what is always a staccato sales pitch for his latest passion.

Truth be known, Eyman could hold his own with any of Walmart’s “A” team of PR specialists. We know. Been there, seen that.

It’s been some time since the Chronicle checked in with Eyman and got an update on his latest passion — putting the brakes on those robo-speed ticket cameras in Monroe and three other Washington cities via the initiative process.

For background on Monroe’s robo-cameras, see the Chronicle’s region-breaking news story on the issue HERE

Last week Eyman kicked off a petition drive in Monroe (and three other cities) to get that robo-camera issue on the ballot - the first local initiative in Monroe city history.

It followed the filing earlier of the same initiative in Bellingham, then Longview’s on Thursday and Wenatchee’s on Friday.

Eyman and others say let voters decide if they want a robot giving them a speeding ticket for $124 so they can have the pleasure of sending that money to some company in Arizona they never heard of.


This time around, Eyman appears to have hit a hot button that many liberals, moderates and conservatives agree upon: this “heavy hand of government” thing, spying on them with automated cameras, issuing tickets and to boot being in bed with an Arizona company that leases the cameras to municipalities and where you have to send your money to.

The initiative in Monroe would bar the city from using camera surveillance to issue fines unless approved by a two-thirds majority of the City Council and by voters. It also would limit fines to no more than the least expensive parking ticket allowed in the city.

Right now Lynnwood and Monroe are the only places in Snohomish County that have traffic-enforcement cameras up and rolling.

Monroe’s robo-cams have been up and recording since January 18 outside Fryelands Elementary School. Cameras at Frank Wagner Elementary were scheduled to be activated as well.

Monroe plans to send out just warning notices till the end of the month to those caught speeding by the cameras. In February though, that speeding infraction will cost you $124.

The state legislature seems to get the drift of where things are headed and today, Tuesday, is scheduled to hear several proposed restrictions on cities that use the cameras.

Thanks to Eyman & Company the legislature may be forced to act if lawmakers want to avoid a full blown statewide “anti-robocam” measure.

Might not be a stretch to say there's a lot of lawmakers and government bureaucrats that wish Eyman would just go get a regular job and get out of their faces.

In Mukilteo, Eyman’s home turf, 71 percent of voters already approved a similar measure that restricts the city’s use of traffic cameras.


Major sore point with Eyman these days: Monroe’s Mayor Bob Zimmerman indicating in a past council meeting a public hearing might be held on the robot camera issue before the council acted, and then no public hearing.

Eyman calls the move “the triple double flip that the mayor and the city council took when it came to promising a public hearing before a proceeding with cameras and then when the cameras had been turned off and the reporters walked away they went right back to business as usual and proceed with the cameras anyway.”

He calls that the perfect metaphor for these “obnoxious ticketing cameras” because of the “corrupting influence that the money making operation of these cameras entails, they make city officials do things they would never do on any other issue -- because it means millions of dollars of revenue to the city.”

Eyman says the makers of the cameras go out and target cash-trapped communities where the basic sales pitch goes something like this:

“Hey, have we got a deal for you! We got millions of dollars in free money for your city! All ya gotta do is say that you’re not doing it for the money! It’s all about safety, see? And as long as you keep saying that over and over, you can count on the voters never getting to the point where they say the emperor has no clothes and you’ll continue to make millions to fund your city!”

The camera manufacturer reportedly gets a cut of the action on every speeding ticket as payment for the lease of their gear – which arguably opens up a can of worms about conflict of interest if you think about it for two seconds.

Eyman loves to point out that 10% of the city of Lynnwood’s general fund revenue now comes from “red light cameras and speed cams.”

It’s sort of an Eyman “I told you so” whenever he brings that up.

But if you ask any elected official, he adds, they’ll deny till the cows come home that the cameras are about bringing in easy money -- or “taxation-through-citation,” as Eyman likes to call it.

He also loves to point out there is no way to know if, during their sales presentations to cities, these camera makers are either insinuating (wink-wink) or saying straight out that cities can bring in “X” amount of sweet new crispy dollars with these things because sales presentations are not subject to public disclosure, evidently because the information in them is considered proprietary and competitive for a company and thus cannot be disclosed.


On Saturday Jan. 29th, a typical rainy gray day in the Northwest, Ty Balascio of the group Seeds of Liberty was in Monroe gathering signatures on that Monroe initiative.

Although he declines to say how many he’s gathered so far as the process is only days old, he says business was brisk and about 85% of the people they spoke with agreed that the public needed more oversight on this robo-cam issue and more accountability from government.

A copy of the petition is at upper right, CLICK ICON TO ENLARGE

And where Eyman is full of heat and flash and passion – perfect for America’s overheated media landscape – Balascio is more measured, more reflective, more thoughtful perhaps.

He says most of the voters he talked with were of the opinion, “when does it stop? We don’t want to end up like Lynnwood. There’s concern about, are these things (the cameras) accurate enough to only catch the bad guys? And if they are not accurate enough to only catch the bad guys, how hard is it going to be to actually fight these things (speeding tickets).”

Balascio says there’s been very little reporting about what people have had to go through once they got one of these robo-cam tickets.

He ads that this past weekend he talked with people who either got one of those tickets or had a relative who did in Lynnwood, “And they just went on and on and on about how they had to call Arizona, they had to pay late fees, one person had it attached to their credit…she said there’s no way to prove your innocence against these things because they are not infractions in the classical sense. And the entire process of fighting a private company (the camera outfit in Arizona) in order to get due process was completely backward.”

Balascio says he hasn't seen a single bit of news coverage on that and that’s probably the crux of the real concern -- that this system "completely disenfranchises our due process."



When you get a ticket with one of these things, you don’t pay city hall. No, no, no, no no says Balascio. You now have - thanks to the city of Monroe - a new business relationship with a company you know nothing about in Arizona and they actually have the power to affect your credit rating.

In the world of financing they say your "paper has been sold" to a third party. Somebody bought your debt.

Just like when you finance a car through a car dealer. She (the car dealer) doesn't service that loan debt. She doesn't hold it. She sells it to a guy named Ralph somewhere (or Bob or Sue or Ziggy).

In other words, you as a citizen of your own little town have been thrown into bed with a stranger and that stranger now has a measure of control over your life (stranger now owns your debt) because that stranger went and made a sales pitch to your town and your town homies bought into that pitch because...well...because it was all about safety for the kids. What's a little human bondage to a stranger when we're talking about safety for the kids?

Say what?

“That’s right. There’s a 1-866 number you have to call and there is a website that is run by them…it is a private fine. They are billing you like it’s a debt. If you call the city and say hey I want to deal with you they say no you gotta call them,” Balascio says.

Now, in the fine print Arizona Al may not legally "own" your debt. But for the practical purposes of making sure the cow gets into the barn to be milked, it's the same thing claim foes of the process.

But Ty, what if we want our day in local court to fight that old ticket?

Balascio says drivers can indeed get their day in local court if they want to fight the ticket but there is a Catch 22: “Traffic lawyers are hesitant to take (these cases) because they’ve engineered the fines in such a way that it is cost prohibitive to fight these things and the court hearings themselves happen in a cattle call fashion…it’s just a machine.”

You think Balascio is blowing smoke in your face with that claim? Simply click HERE and you’ll be taken to a lawyer’s home page where he says outright he doesn’t fight those robo-camera tickets for clients because, “The government designed the system to induce massive give up among defendants. If the government was going to steal a million dollars from one person, you can bet that person would fight the case. It's much easier for the government to steal $1 from a million drivers,” says legal-begal Robert Guest.

Balascio says in his opinion that is the hidden story here: how we are disenfranchising ourselves from our own government, frankly for a little bit of revenue.

Oh. And Balascio adds that if the whole thing is not about revenue, why is the whole process engineered so the ticket does not go on your driving record?

“You scratch your head and you wonder, now why would somebody who did something as reckless as run a red light not deserve that on their driving record?”

And what about the argument that it’s not about money for the city, it’s about safety for the kids?

“I’m a pretty analytical guy," says Balascio. " I would say show me the data. Show me where these intersections we're targeting (with robo-cameras) have a disproportionate accident rate and require this type of surveillance,” added Balascio during a recent interview with SkyValleyChronicle.com.

“Because keep in mind if we don’t have a problem here (meaning speeders in a certain area) that is out proportion with the data then what’s the extra motivation (for the cameras)? Are they gonna put these cameras up and say all right we’re gonna reduce the collision rate by “X” percent, and if we don’t (reduce collisions) we’ll take them down?

“If they were really willing to say that and have that type of discussion, heck they might have me walking the town in support of this thing,” added Balascio.

Balascio does that. He asks questions based on logic and data and things like that and then wants a sensible answer based on data and logic. Guys like him can be a monkey wrench in anyone’s soup.

Now here is where it to gets down to the nub of the rub in the rub-a-dub-dub in Balascio's view.

“This is a major, major change in the way that public citizens interact with government. It’s unprecedented and I’m very concerned about how this little tear in the fabric of our privacy and the fabric of our liberty can turn into a significant rip if we don’t scrutinize this extremely closely and have a very transparent discussion about what it all means.”



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