Skip to comments.Fight over (Houston)red light cameras goes to federal court (voters won referendum to turn them off)
Posted on 12/09/2010 11:50:14 AM PST by a fool in paradise
A U.S. federal district judge is set to take up the case of the red light camera fight. The camera operator, ATS, and the city of Houston, are at odds over whether or not the city must pay for turning off the cameras.
Voters decided a month ago they wanted the cameras to come down so the city says it doesn't owe the company that runs the cameras any more money. That company says not so fast...
Attorney for ATS say the vote was illegal and should never have been on the ballot. ATS said because the city broke its contract with the red light camera company, the city owes millions.
On the other side of courtroom, attorneys for the city of Houston argued it does not owes ATS any money because voters voided the contract.
..."We have a valid contract. There is a legitimate legal question as to whether a referendum vote can cause the city to walk away from a contract," said Mayor Parker. "We've asked a federal judge to help mediate this."
The city has stopped issuing red light tickets. But late last month, the judge ordered the cameras stay up and in place.
Meanwhile, ATS says according to data it has collected lately, red light running is up 27 percent over last year...
(Excerpt) Read more at abclocal.go.com ...
No mention in this Channel 13 puff piece about how the city of Houston is conspiring against the citizens of Houston to lose this case (and maintain their red light camera ticket revenue stream).
First it was, we can’t vote on Civil Rights. Now it’s we can’t vote on municipal issues. Next it will be, we can’t vote for the people we want to vote for.
Meanwhile a guy who recorded a judge during his trial is in jail right now.
They can film us, but we can’t film them.
Just another day in Obamaland. :)
I can believe it. Everyone knows if they don’t take these lights down; they will come back with them. They need to take them down period. The voters have spoken.
We need to get more involved with how things are written when they are presented to the voter to vote on.
If government entities can't be trusted to honour contracts; won't that weaken contract laws in general? Won't contractors be wary of entering into government contracts — unless they build in some additional premium, for risk of contract violation?
the cameras should come down - invoke rule 308.
As I understand it, the original contract had a severance clause. After the vote, the city council signed a new contract without the clause a mere 3 days prior to the new law going into effect.
The voters had spoken, and the council at that point lacked the legal authority to sign such a contract. The new contract should be voided.
Mayor Bill White voided the contracts on those who had rented out the George R. Brown convention center when he hijacked it to shelter Katina refugees from New Orleans.
Bill White looked in the camera and said “I DARE anyone to sue me over this decision”.
The city of Houston will do whatever it damn well pleases.
Obviously the city is in cahoots with the judge and the camera company to keep the cameras on, because they have the power to extend the yellow light time to say ten seconds and make an all red overlap of two seconds and virtually end all red light running AND prevent accidents as well. That would screw the camera company without taking the cameras down.
“As I understand it, the original contract had a severance clause. ....”
O.K. that makes all the difference. From what you said, the Council members were really in the wrong. This whole thing is on them. I was just speaking for the general principle of the sanctity of contract law.
“red light running went up 27 percent”
Well, then, put the yellows back to the length they were before you installed the cameras. Problem solved.
Some of the flaws in your metaphor are:
1) Shareholders are not responsible for the debts of the corporations they invest in.
2) Citizens under a government do not get to decide whether to join or not.
3) All governments claim sovereign immunity and private corporations know that when they contract with them.
Governments are not a private businesses and do not behave like private businesses.
Understood. And you are correct on the matter in general, of course.
Please see my # 12, to ex 98C MI Dude. Clearly, I didn’t have all the facts at hand.
Perhaps some good will come of this, if the red light company wins a settlement, and the contract-voiding Councilors are made to pay for their transgressions, in some way. That might help shore up contract law. Of course, the lights still have to come down; as that’s what the people voted for.
I agree that it is bad to break a contract (or otherwise default on an agreement).
I think it’s even worse when the elected leadership conspires against the interests and will of the people by siding with the opposition in a lawsuit.
“I agree that you were wronged, let’s see if we can nulify this vote that we never wanted to take place since it came in against our policies”.
I likewise think that Chuck Rosenthal helped throw the Lawrence v. Texas case on same sex sodomy laws. He said he didn’t like the law in the first place and claimed that he couldn’t pick which laws he wanted to enforce. From day one, the activists said their goal was to overturn the law itself (not the charge) in the courts.
However, municipalities aren't like other governments. They aren't sovereign in the same way as countries, or states (or, in the case of Canada, provinces). They generally derive their authority from the state government; perhaps through a special charter. Whether or not that distinction matters in this case; I don't know — but, it is generally an important distinction.
Also, one of the few, universally acknowledged, functions of government; is the enforcement of contracts. If governments void contracts with impunity; what does that do to their moral authority to enforce other contracts?
(I don't have a dog in this particular fight but I'm watching with interest since I've been working with a couple of city councilmen to get our revenue cameras removed as well)
I actually agree with you. The way I see it, it is like the city signed a two year lease on a building, and two months later the voters choose to tell the government they cannot occupy the building. It means the gov. still has to make lease payments for two years on an empty building.
That would mean I suspect the government must honor the contract and keep the cameras up and continue to pay until the contract expires, but the government will not use the cameras.
OTOH, maybe it can be ruled that the contract is not enforceable. I don’t know the nuances.
An interesting side note: In some states you can ignore red light camera tickets regardless of the threatening letters because a) you did not agree to the ticket so they cannot ding your credit record for not paying, and b) they carry no government weight. That is, they don’t go against your driving record and they will not be used to hold up any future licensing. I am having a devil of a time finding out exactly which states those are, however.
You might find the writings of Hans Herman Hoppe interesting. That is his favorite topic. Governments claim the sole authority to settle disputes, so naturally they usually decide disputes involving themselves in their own favor. In fact, governments will often creates disputes, just so they can rule in their own favor.
Private companies deal with governmental entities because they think it is easy money. But smart businessmen also know that there is always a risk in dealing with governmental entities. I worked in the university accounting department when I was in college and we had vendors who were outraged to find out they had to met standards to get paid, or that their payment was being offset against some alleged tax bill. I once had to negotiate with a car dealership the university police department was trying to buy a car from and had the owner tell me that he just discards bid invitations from state agencies and would never sell a car to a state agency unless the sale was COD.
That would be an exercise of emergency powers, and it would all depend first on whether the legislature had given the mayor that power, and if not, second, if, as the mayor said, any bumped contract holder would have the guts to sue the city for the relief effort.
Sometimes you have rights you don’t exercise, because it’s just too costly.
That is a legal argument, and therefore subject to a court ruling -- hence the lawsuit. My guess is that the referendum had NOT gone into effect yet, so the council DID have the right to make a new contract on that point.
But, did the council have a legal right to make ANY contract without a serverance clause? That would be another legal question.
And third, is there such a thing as a non-terminating contract? Without a severance clause, I would still expect a contract can be broken, with the courts deciding what the value of that broken contract was. I would expect a court to only maintain a contract if the contract itself had value to one participant that was impossible to replace with a monetary settlement.
But what seems clear to me is that you can't simply declare a valid contract to be null and void because citizens pass a referendum against it.
BTW, the criminals in this case are the elected officials, not the company. The officials behaved badly in trying to thwart the will of the people. They of course could be voted out of office in the next election, if the people remember and decide to do so.
Shoot them w/ paintballs.
If that doesn’t work, break out the real guns and have at it!
They can’t arrest everyone. That’s what a mexican once told me.
Houston had no state of emergency. It was not the nearest city to New Orleans and the affected area.
Houstonians had to evacuate the city when Hurricane Rita came bearing down because those who might have been affected from such a disaster had no place in town to seek shelter. Rita ended up hitting the Texas/Louisiana border but a few years later, the lesser powered Hurricane Ike scored a direct hit on Galveston and Houston and the city was without power for a week.
But he was able to spin his “own” good will gesture into a re-election with no challengers. Of course crime rates soared and we had all sorts of expenses. But it looked good in print.
Houston had no state of emergency. It was not the nearest city to New Orleans and the affected area...
Houston is 6 hours to the West of New Orleans. 6 hours north of New Orleans is Memphis. 6 hours east of New Orleans is Atlanta. And there are plenty of other cities inbetween.
I believe the council acted in extremely bad faith, and possibly criminally. The company knew the public was about to vote these things out, so it is equally culpable in this act. They deliberately and purposefully tried to nullify the voters intent. That company should be banned from operating in Houston, and possibly the State of Texas, for a period to be determined.
Going around We the People’s intent must be punished harshly.
If I recall, the legislature made the change to STATE law and the city council changed the contract in a way that was UNFAVORABLE to the city of Houston and its citizens so as to not comply with the incoming state law.
Corrupt. The contract was negotiated “in good faith” by the city in opposition to the city’s own interests.
The referendum is something from this year, but the contract was renewed in an earlier year.
I guess you didn't hear about the Stock holders of GM, law meant nothing in their case.
I believe that would result in many more people running through yellows as they learn they have extra time.
I’m not in favor of the camera at all. But Houston had a HUGE problem of people running red lights.
When I moved here more than 2 decades ago, the joke was you could tell a native as they were the third one through the red light.
Reading a little more, the extension was to thwart the Texas Legislature’s bid to end red light cameras. Wow, this city council is completely power-mad.
Thanks for the tip — I’ve just been reading some of the stuff on his web site. You’re right, it is interesting — and thought provoking.
Good point. The slope’s been slippery for a while now.
And didn’t the city of Houston sign this contract after they already knew the result of the vote to ban the cameras?
“Attorney for ATS say the vote was illegal and should never have been on the ballot.”
Some lawyer without a soul can be bought to say anything. A majority of the people voted to do away with the cameras. Either the will of the people shall be respected or the election will be seen as a sham, which does not bode well for the future.
Red light cameras here lost the biggest part of violations as soon as poor traffic engineering or traffic control equipment malfunction was corrected, and SF area drivers are the worst on the planet.
Among the common occurrences:
Camera company employees were allowed to adjust light times, and they immediately shortened yellows to illegal times. After being caught (by a civilian) and corrected violations dropped to non profitable levels.
Camera companies surveyed and recommended cameras for lights they knew (and didn't report) had inoperative traffic volume pavement sensors resulting in a short green and backed up traffic in one direction. Repair of the sensors dropped violations to zero at these lights.
Concealment of stats showing accident increases at camera intersections and that a one second all red transition eliminates 99% of the dreaded T-bone collisions without issuing a single violation.
It is also likely that the driving habits in Houston were deliberately manufactured by the revenue collectors. They were here.
The cameras should never have been put up in the first place.
If the city attorneys lose this case for whatever reason...At the end of the day we will probably not have any “red light safety” cameras operating anyway in this city...
I counsel restraint, and patience, to my fellow Houstonians...This problem will eventually resolve itself in our favor soon enough...
Let’s just be cooler than school, pop a bag of popcorn, sit back and enjoy the show...
I got a copy of that rule around here somewhere...