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Mayor: Red light cameras to be turned back on

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Mayor Annise Parker made the announcement Wednesday that the controversial red light cameras are going to be turned back on. They had been turned off last November after voters said they didn't want them, and a legal battle has been waging ever since.

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After a judge ruled the referendum on the cameras was invalid on June 17, the company that runs Houston's red light cameras, American Traffic Solutions, hand-delivered a letter June 20 giving the City of Houston until August 1 to decide what to do.

The city was given the option of either turning on the cameras or paying damages for as much as $20 million, and the mayor today said the city will file an appeal to the ruling that the proposition was invalid.

Mayor Parker said the red light cameras will be turned back on in the interim to comply with the court ruling.

"After much deliberation and consultation with members of council, with city attorney and the city legal department, I have decided that the city will request the ability to appeal the ruling of Judge Lynn Hughes. And while we are appealing his ruling, the red light cameras will be turned back on," Mayor Parker said.

The city said ticket issuance will resume after a short period of equipment testing.

Mayor Parker called Wednesday's announcement a difficult decision in balancing the interest of voters as well as the judge's ruling.

"The City just went through a very painful budget process in which nearly 750 employees were laid off and park, library and health services were cut back. We simply don't have the millions they claim we would owe for violating the court decision and our contractual obligation to ATS. Therefore, I have decided the fiscally-prudent path to take is to turn the cameras back on while also seeking a second chance for the voters in the courts," she said.

ATS released a statement which read in part, "In accordance with Mayor Parker's announcement, ATS is working to immediately reactivate and fully functionalize Houston's red light safety cameras."

The city also said that some cameras may be moved from their current locations to intersections with higher accident rates upon completion of a recent review that ATS and the city are initiating to make sure the cameras are placed at the city's most dangerous intersections.

ATS claimed the election on red light cameras -- Proposition 3 on the November ballot -- was improperly called because the city did not have the legal authority to hold a special election on the issue.

United States District Judge Lynn Hughes last month said the election never should have taken place because it was not actually a charter amendment, but rather an "improper and untimely" referendum.

The city says it must first ask Judge Hughes for permission to appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and permission is also required from the appellate court.

The Kubosh brothers, who campaigned to put the camera issue on last November's ballot, are furious.

"How can a mayor ask you for your vote when she doesn't respect any of the votes of the people?" said attorney Michael Kubosh.

Mayor Parker says the city will appeal the ruling, but she had to make a decision.

"I don't know if that appeal is going to be successful, but I also know the city can't afford the millions in liability to ATS," said the mayor.

Kubosh says he just doesn't think the city wants to win the appeal.

'The city intends to file an appeal in a way that maximizes its chances of losing. The city intends on falling on its sword. I don't believe a word the city says," said Kubosh.

Our political consultant Dr. Richard Murray says there were no easy options for the mayor in this fight, but he does think there may be other factors in her decision.

"It's interesting because of the timing. She faces her own re-election in four months, so by making this decision she's injected this issue squarely into the mayor's race," said Dr. Murray.

He also says if you don't like the mayor's decision to turn the cameras back on, you can let her know by either voting her out of office or keeping her in.

Stay with Eyewitness News and abc13.com for the latest on this story. And if you have questions about the red light cameras, join our live chat, which begins at 5:30pm today. ABC13 Legal Analyst Joel Androphy will chat about the legal fight around the cameras and what it means for you. Ask your question now and get an answer at 5:30pm.

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