Port Lavaca City council receives red light camera petition

By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Feb. 15, 2012 at 7:04 p.m.
Updated Feb. 14, 2012 at 8:15 p.m.

The battle over Port Lavaca's red light cameras continues.

After submitting a signed petition to vote on eliminating the devices in Port Lavaca, the Port Lavaca Citizens Against Red Light Cameras are still waiting for the red lights to be turned off, said Carl Baugh, the organizer of the group.

Five of the cameras were installed at intersections along state Highway 35 in December 2008. The cameras record drivers running red lights and have been a point of contention for the past two years.

The City Council says the cameras are there for safety. Baugh maintains they were installed for profit.

Baugh submitted a petition a few weeks ago for a referendum to change the city charter and remove the cameras. The petition needed 200 notarized signatures to be accepted. The petition was presented to the Port Lavaca City Council at its meeting on Monday with more than 200 signatures, Baugh said.

After the city accepts the petition, Baugh said the city charter states the cameras must be turned off until the council has either voted the cameras out or place a referendum about the red light cameras on the ballot.

The council went into closed session to discuss the petition before asking City Attorney Anne Marie Odefey to review the case.

Baugh said the city charter requires the council to either vote on the issue or vote to place the issue on the election ballot once the petition has been accepted, but the cameras have stayed on.

"Right now, they're in violation of their city charter for not pulling those cameras. The police are issuing fake tickets on an ordinance that should be suspended right now," Baugh said.

On Wednesday, Port Lavaca Mayor Jack Whitlow and Odefey received certified letters from Baugh demanding that the cameras be turned off until the issue has been resolved.

Whitlow said the council has 30 days to have the petition formally reviewed by Odefey before they respond. He said Baugh had misread the city charter and the City Council is not required to turn off the cameras.

"He's reading it a little bit wrong. It's really easy to misinterpret the charter. That's why even we look at it pretty closely," Whitlow said.

Odefey said via email that she had no comment as city attorney "because of the legal nature of (the) matter" and the pending lawsuit from Texas Traffic Coalition.

This is the second petition Baugh has submitted to the council in his quest to put the issue of red light cameras to a vote. The first petition contained more than 1,500 signature, but it was rejected after the Texas Traffic Coalition filed a lawsuit against the city. The lawsuit stated that the city could not put the matter to a vote because red light cameras were a matter of "health and safety," something only the City Council could decide.

After the City Council voted the matter down, Baugh went back to square one. While the council's vote was frustrating, he has been working to get the cameras removed from Port Lavaca for the past two years. He said he isn't going to stop until the matter is put to a vote.

"All I want is a vote. If it's voted out or voted in, I'm going to go with what the people decide, not what these elected officials have decided to do on their own," Baugh said.



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