Port Lavaca City Council votes against putting the red-light cameras to a vote in May
By BY DIANNA WRAY
March 11, 2011 at 7:05 p.m.
Updated March 10, 2011 at 9:11 p.m.
THE STORY SO FAR:
In January 2009, five red-light cameras were approved by the city council to be installed at five intersections deemed to be the busiest in Port Lavaca.
Port Lavaca resident Carl Baugh became concerned about the cameras after he was issued a mailed citation for going through an intersection.
Baugh set up a Facebook page PL Citizens Against Red Light Cameras.
He started collecting signatures on a petition asking to put the city ordinance to a vote and amend the charter.
He collected 495 signatures - more than the required 5 percent of the residents who voted in the last election, or 289 signatures - and in January submitted the petition to the city for validation.
The signatures were validated last week.
A referendum to repeal the red-light cameras in Port Lavaca will not be on the ballot for the May election.
The city council voted not to put it on the ballot and a law suit was filed to prevent it, as well.
The city had until March 14 to validate the signatures and vote on whether to put a referendum on the red light cameras on the ballot for the May 14 election.
Port Lavaca resident Carl Baugh, who initiated the petition drive to have the vote, said he was frustrated to learn that the council voted against putting the cameras to a vote.
"We did everything they told us to do to get it on the ballot and get it voted on, and then they turned around and wouldn't put it on the ballot. It's frustrating," Baugh said.
Baugh said he plans to continue opposing the cameras.
Last week, the Texas Traffic Safety Coalition filed a lawsuit against the city, stating that they can't vote to have the charter changed based on the petition.
The council held an emergency meeting on Tuesday, and voted against putting the charter amendment on the May ballot, Port Lavaca Mayor Jack Whitlow said Friday.
"We're not voting on whether the city should or should not have red-light cameras, but on whether this is something that can be legally decided with a petition, and legally it can't," Whitlow said.
Whitlow noted that the city of Houston has been embroiled in a federal lawsuit over this same issue since last November, costing the city thousands of dollars in legal fees.
"I don't want to expose the city to a federal lawsuit. That will cost the city thousands and I don't think taxpayers should have to pay that," Whitlow said.
The city's attorney, Ty Zeller, had also concluded this.
Zeller said the legal question is whether the red-light cameras are even something that can be called for a vote via petition.
"In certain circumstances, citizens can petition their municipality to do certain things ... but they can't petition for health and safety. Health and safety is only in the purvey of the city council. Red-light cameras are about safety," Zeller said.
Zeller said this is the legal question at the heart of the red-light camera lawsuit against the city of Houston. He said the council will watch the ruling closely. He said the council may re-evaluate their decision if the judge rules that it was legal to put red-light cameras on the ballot.
Whitlow said that, despite the lawsuit filed against the city, the council decided to vote against putting the charter amendment on the ballot on their own.
"I don't even know what that group (the Texas Traffic Safety Coalition) is," Whitlow said.
Baugh said has been talking to lawyers and is considering filing a counter-suit, he said.
"To do all of that work and have the city council say they aren't going to allow it, for them to do that is just blatantly wrong," Baugh said.