8/3/2011Houston Residents Unload on City Council Over Red Light Decision
Voters in Houston, Texas show outrage at city council meeting over reactivation of red light cameras.
Hundreds of Houston, Texas residents swarmed the city council chambers yesterday to complain about the reactivation of red light cameras. Voters in November enacted a charter amendment banning the use of automated ticketing machines, but a federal judge worked with the city attorney and vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to nullify the election so that the cameras could come back.
"Ever since I was a little kid I was told this was the greatest nation in the world and it was great because I had a vote and my vote counted," resident Terry Dry said. "It appears my vote does not. I'm asking y'all as our elected leaders, we voted. Turn them off. And if you're not going to do that, I would like to know where each council member stands on the issue so that we can get some people in here who will do the people's will in the next election."
The audience broke out into boisterous applause until Mayor Annise Parker interrupted.
"We do not allow displays like that in this chamber, and the police will clear the chamber if we cannot have order," Parker said. "We have a process and we're going to hear from every one of you.... I personally believe they say lives. I get the whole thing about the vote."
Parker insisted the city legal team was fighting as hard as it can to uphold the will of the voters, but given the city's budget deficit, she had no choice but to reactivate the system. ATS had threatened to sue for $20 million if the cameras were not reactivated, but some residents questioned Parker's claims.
"I'd love to see a jury that would give that verdict," local attorney Eric Dick said. "Why are we looking to expand the cameras if our intention is to turn them off? The case is on appeal. Are we going to refund the money if the city loses the appeal for the cameras? I think it's just crazy what we're doing."
Councilman Jolanda Jones agreed with many of the speakers and pointed out that Parker acted on her own in reactivating the cameras. The mayor refused Jones' request to allow the council to vote on whether to respect the November election results.
"This is no longer a legal issue," initiative co-sponsor Paul Kubosh said. "You can hide behind whatever federal judge you want. It does not matter. This is now a political issue. This body is in danger of losing this issue. Let me make sure that you folks understand. This will never go away, and we're not going to wait until 2014."
The Kubosh brothers said they intended to file another charter amendment that would remove the thirty-day time limit for the filing of a referendum. They may also weaken the position of mayor by allowing two councilmen to place items on the city council agenda.