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In Fear of ATS: The Palm Coast City
Council’s Red-Light Camera Delusions

| March 1, 2015

Despite being found illegal , misapplied, or costly to the local economy, red-light cameras continue to be part of Palm Coast's landscape. (Ben Ostrowsky)

Despite being found illegal , misapplied, or costly to the local economy, red-light cameras continue to be part of Palm Coast’s landscape. (Ben Ostrowsky)

For the past year Mayor Jon Netts has been calling red-light camera systems as they are today a “perversion” of their original intent, and City Manager Jim Landon last spring described the program as “harassing our citizens.”


That was before Circuit Judge Dennis Craig indicted the city’s red-light camera scheme for “bad faith” and revealing how the city punishes drivers without having any idea who’s at the wheel of a vehicle. It was before a county judge and the county court clerk admonished the Palm Coast government for improperly taking on a role reserved only for the clerk of court when it came to certain tickets. And that was before a key part of the program was declared illegal by a court in Florida, forcing Palm Coast to stop its vendor from issuing violations to those who ignore their first notice.

In sum, Palm Coast’s red-light camera scheme has been blinking red with deceptions, lies, law-breaking and—a Palm Coast specialty—presumption pretty much since its inception in 2007, but the charade has been hitting the fan only in the past year or so, leading the manager and the council to change their tune.

Two weeks ago you’d have thought the Palm Coast City Council was ready to go out on the streets and declaim in its best Ronald Reagan impersonation, “Tear down those red-light cameras.” The council wanted to suspend the contract with American Traffic Solutions, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based merchant of greed the city has been conspiring with on Palm Coast’s camera grid, and be done with the whole thing as soon as legally possible.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive Then it all changed again. It only took two weeks.

Last Tuesday, even Steven Nobile, who got elected on a promise to end the cameras, had switched. Four of the five council members, Nobile included, had caved to a threat by ATS to sue. The one exception was Jason DeLorenzo, who’s consistently opposed the cameras and is willing to dare ATS to sue. The others aren’t. They bought ATS’s bribe: stick with us, reduce your camera count to five (from 43), and we’ll pay your legal expenses when the next lawsuit hits.

Imagine that. Palm Coast knows it will be sued again (it was sued over its pre-2010 scheme, too), and it’s choosing to stay with the company and the system that’s getting it sued, because it would rather get sued by drivers than by ATS. The perversions don’t stop there.

Netts keeps saying that the program once had its golden age, when the city had 10 cameras and split the revenue between ATS and its own coffers. Then the state got involved and mucked it all up. What he’s forgetting is that the Florida Supreme Court ruled last June that Palm Coast and other cities that had these schemes in place before 2010 were breaking the law even then, as was clear to anyone with a minor understanding of state law, and should have been clear to city officials. They had no authority to put up the red-light cameras in the first place. So there was no golden age. It’s been a rip-off, and an illegal rip-off from day one.

The difference is that before 2010, Palm Coast could keep a much larger share of the profits. Now the profits are split between the state, which at least devotes a fraction of the money to medical research, and to ATS shareholders, so they can play golf at Palm Coast’s expense. Palm Coast’s share has fallen to just over $300,000, and is set to fall to around $45,000, or vanish altogether.

Landon claims the cameras have at least changed driver behavior, as evidenced by the declining number of citations, parroting a line from ATS propaganda: “Crashes in Palm Coast have dramatically decreased,” an ATS presentation claimed to the council in 2012.

If that were true, 2012,  2013 and 2014 would not have each resulted in more crashes than in any previous year in the county’s history. This, at a time when the population has increased only marginally. And in exact conjunction with the cameras spreading to 43 locations. If driver behavior is changing, the numbers show it’s for the worse.

The same presentation claimed the camera’s “benefits” have all happened “at no cost to taxpayers,” neglecting,. Of course, to mention the millions odd dollars ATRS and the state have siphoned away from the local economy since their installation, and the millions of dollars drivers have incurred in costs from crashes provoked by the cameras, as rear-end crashes at intersections often are, if the research is to be believed (see below).

The termination clause that was in Palm Coast's contract with ATS until 2012, when then clause was inexplicably removed. Click on the image for larger view.

So much for the public interest: that clause was deleted from Palm Coast’s contract in 2012, cornering the council today into submitting to ATS demands. Click on the image for larger view.

City Council member Bill McGuire claims that a still very large number of residents want and support the red light cameras. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, but not in a vacuum. Every year since the city installed the cameras, Palm Coast has surveyed thousands of its residents to find out how they feel about dozens of issues. One such survey was just released this week. It’s mostly a feel-good PR job to make the city look good. The city could have included a question or two about red-light cameras. It never has. No need to wonder why. The negative response would have likely been an embarrassment to the city and would have taken away the figment of legitimacy the council claims the red-light cameras have.

But majority support, if it exists, should not be taken at face value, either, nor should McGuire accept it as such absent evidence that the cameras are an effective safety measure. What does that evidence say? You wouldn’t know it from watching the council, an evidence-free zone when it comes to red-light cameras (ATS’s self-serving confabulations aside). The other day the administration showed a brief clip of sensational intersection crashes, eliciting ooohs and aaah from the council members, as if the clips had any analytical value for the discussion. They didn’t. All they showed was that crashes at intersections take place, and are captured neatly by cameras. The existence of red-light cameras makes no difference: the video captures were proof, since they were taken at intersections equipped with the cameras. Council members appeared not to catch the irony. But the footage had its intended effect: to manipulate emotion, not contribute evidence.

There is a trove of research out there, a lot of it bunk, some of it more reliably peer-reviewed and scholarly. Let’s briefly stick to the latter. Virginia Transportation Research Council used seven years of data to conclude in 2007 that its results were a wash, justifying neither the installation nor the removal of cameras, and finding what other comprehensive studies find: that cameras lead to a small net increase in crashes and a change in the nature of crashes, with rear-end collisions replacing t-bone collisions, but also a net, if slight, increase in costs associated with crashes.

In 2008 a peer-reviewed research paper in the Florida Public Health Review found that 80 percent of red-light running occurs in the first second after the light has turned to red, buttressing recurring arguments that the problem can largely be addressed by lengthening yellow lights, and that “even if red light cameras could be effective in the long run, which is debatable, they are associated with an added cost, consisting of fines, crashes and injuries that could have been avoided by using engineering solutions, which are effective in both the short term and the long run.” The study concluded, after a review of numerous red-light camera studies and analyses, that “rigorous and robust studies conclude cameras are associated with increased crashes and costs,” and that “any economic analysis of cameras should include these newly generated costs to the public.”

Click On:


The Florida Public Health Review authors did find some studies supporting the effectiveness of cameras, only to conclude that the studies were statistically flawed or tendentious—and usually paid for by special interests, such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. A Federal Highway Administration study has often been relied upon as an indicator of reduced crashes, but, the health review analysis found, “the university professor who co-directed this study and provided the methodological ideas has also conducted research for the IIHS.” The authors wen t on to expose his design flaws, such as selectively rather than randomly choosing camera samples, failing to study crash data before and after cameras were installed (using estimates instead). Astoundingly, “Instead of reporting the full results of the statistical analyses, only an example with made-up numbers was provided,” the review analysts found. And so on.

The Florida Public Health Review authors updated their research in 2011 and, after relating additional examples of tendentious research, reiterated its conclusion that “it is important for the public at large and federal, state, and local officials to understand that motor vehicle safety is advanced through evidence-based methods,” a lesson at least our own local officials continue to ignore.

Needless to say, not once has Palm Coast presented any such data to the public or to the council, let alone come close to analyzing crash data in methodologically defensible ways. The city concedes that it would be too expensive. So on one of the most divisive and, to the public, costly policy decisions, the council has always based its decisions on anecdotal evidence, gut feelings, noisy emails, ATS pressure, and of course, cash.

And let’s not forget why the city is in the legal mess it’s in now. Council discussions for the last few weeks have hinged on whether Palm Coast could suspend or get out of the contract without incurring ATS’s wrath. Why is that? It’s a simple answer. In 2012, when Landon renegotiated the contract with ATS, he agreed to delete Section 24 of the contract. Section 24 gave Palm Coast authority to terminate the contract without cause. ATS didn’t want that. And without council discussion, let alone council direction, the clause was deleted, and Palm Coast was legally exposed to ATS’s blackmail today.

It’s the same amendment that also extended the contract to 2019—seven years from 2012, again, not at the council’s direction. No such extension was ever discussed before the contract was presented to the council for approval. Not even Palm Coast’s contract with Waste Pro, the garbage company, goes seven years. It stops at five, with options to renew. Why the difference? Well, ATS needs to have some security for its investment, right? Maybe so. But since when is Palm Coast government’s mission to protect a contractor ahead of residents and city interests? And where’s opportunistic claim that cameras are about safety rather than profits in this argument?

We could go on to tiresome lengths—and already have—to lay out the recurring debacle that red-light cameras have been for Palm Coast. The courts have made clear how venal the system has been as so many cities were willing to ignore state law to cash in. The council is making clear how venal it continues to be, mostly out of fear of ATS, a fear begins with an utter absence of courage and appears to have no end.

“This program has become so perverted from the time we instituted it,” Netts said on Tuesday, “And guess who messed it up for us.” Well, no shades of gray in the answer, Jon. It’s not ATS, it’s not the State of Florida, and it’s certainly not drivers. This perversion lies squarely at the foot of the Palm Coast City Council and its manager.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here, or follow him on Twitter. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.

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38 Responses for “In Fear of ATS: The Palm Coast City
Council’s Red-Light Camera Delusions”

  1. m&m says:

    Bravo Netts. Now get rid of that so called city manager hes’ cost us enough money..

  2. Joe says:

    Steven Nobile, you lied!!!!!!!!! You lied to us all!!!!

    • Freddy says:

      Steve do not expect to get re-elected, you lied!

    • liberal says:

      They all lie. I propose a 1 year term for elections. You lie, you are out.

    • Anonymous says:

      I believe so

    • Steven Nobile says:

      NO I DID NOT. I said I would do whatever is possible to get rid of the red-light cameras without costing the Residents of Palm Coast in the process. Go back and check if you would like. Here is what I have accomplished.

      We are going from 43 to 5 cameras about a 90% reduction, contract reduced from 2019 to 2017 on the remaining 5, costs for law suits against the City are covered by ATS.

      If ATS sued us, it is not a matter of win or lose because we (residents of Palm Coast) LOSE either way. The cost to defend/represent the city would be huge and that cost would sit whether we win or lose the lawsuit to terminate our contract with ATS.

      P.S.
      I am not making decisions based on whether or not I will get re-elected, but instead, whats best for the residents of Palm Coast as a whole. We should be so lucky to have for all our elected officials.

      • w.ryan says:

        Steve, I voted for the person that said he will get rid of these cameras. I voted for the someone that stated he will get rid f those annoying issues to do with permits and BS quality of life ordinances that create more of a harassment issue for the citizens of city of Palm Coast. As I see it you broke your primary promise to to the persons who voted for you. There are legal means that weren’t explored and you caved.

      • Jim Moller says:

        Steve,

        Thank you for your responses and availability on this web site. The message is that the citizens of Flagler County (Palm Coast) want to get rid of all red light cameras in as expedient a manner as is possible. We are assured that you will do all that is possible. If that means cutting the number now and then ridding us of them all in the future that is fine. Thanks for being available.

      • Flatsflyer says:

        Steve, what if the City sues ATS for selling a Fraudulent Product, one that they knew was based on illegal processes, I would sue for Fraud and Bad Faith. Should be a no brainer as the company has continued to sell a product / service that Courts have already determined are illegal.

  3. R palm coast says:

    The law is written and I don’t think any judge will side with a private company that compels a City Government to break the law to benefit itself. Let them sue. Stop this ridiculous game. Time to challenge the City to do the right thing and follow the law.

  4. Heading North says:

    Keep right on electing those money grubbing morons! Nets, Landon and the rest are all political clowns!
    You, the citizens of Palm Coast are responsible for them being there, therefore you have no one else to blame but yourselves!
    Like I said, keep on electing them! It gives you all something to cry about later!
    I enjoyed living in Palm Coast, but when it became a city I started looking somewhere else. Wheee I live now, the town supervisor makes a stipend of $3,000 and the council members are elected Volunteers!
    Believe it or not, so are ALL the school board members!
    And you’re paying Landon and Netts how much???
    I wish all the folks of Flagler County well as always.
    Ever notice the problems come from the top? Netts, Landon, Coffee, and MANFRE — there’s most of your problems folks and you elected them!!!

    • Percy's mother says:

      Mind giving a rough idea as to the better place you’ve found to live? There are several here in Palm Coast looking for another place to go.

      Done with Palm Coast. It’s not the nice little town it used to be. It could have remained a nice place but it’s been completely ruined.

      So, again, mind giving a rough idea of a better place to which you’ve relocated?

      • Heading North says:

        It’s a small township 4.6 (4 and 6/10) of a mile south of the Canadian border and the St. Lawrence River. Population about 750.
        Always room for good neighbors here!

    • R.M Worley says:

      Well said, Where did you Move? I just told my neighbor that as long as the red light cameras go then I may stay where I am , In Palm Coast, Now it looks as if this won’t happen so back to my plan to MOVE to another area and once again I will put out the word to friends and acquaintances to not bother to move to Palm Coast, This has become simply a Big Brother town with more punishments than enjoyment in living here.

  5. Jan Reeger says:

    I would presume one can not sue to enforce an illegal contract. Not just in this case, but we always see Commissioners back down with threat of law suit. Even when they could expect to win.

  6. Tom Jacks says:

    So landon negotiated away the city’s ability to cancel red light cameras. I wonder if there was a financial incentive for him, from ATS, upon successfully removing the city’s rights? Once again the residents of Palm Coast get screwed. What an exemplary city manager we have.

  7. Matt says:

    Exactly! Well done!

  8. Rob says:

    Pierre you have hit them about as square in the eyes as you can over the red light camera issue. And they still don’t / or won’t get it.

    Past performance is an excellent indicator of future behavior. Jon Netts has his own agenda and the only time he paid heed to the citizens was when 1500 or so voted for him. He and his side kick are the two people who have been constants in this act of greed. Thankfully the end is on the horizon for at least one of them.

    These folks remind me of the high school football team who was getting stuffed all day and their coach keeps telling them they are going to keep running this one play until it works.

  9. jamie says:

    I’ve been ticketed 4x. Two my own fault and 2 with my kids driving on learner’s permits. I watched the videos on all citations. I was in the wrong. I don’t know law but feel I was justly cited. If the law determines camera’s are illegal, fine. But the video shows I (or whom I was legally responsible) didn’t obey, I will not ask for my money back. If a law man wrote the tickets my insurance premiums would likely be different.
    My view is that officials heard many demands for action on crashes 2004 through 2007. They did their best to listen. I fault none of them. They served us well and think they will continue to do so.
    I thank all elected folks. Lousy job. I imagine residents of Detroit have a bit more to be upset about.

    • Steve From Bunnell says:

      Jamie;These cameras HAVE NEVER been about “safety”, there has never been a study to justify that cameras make intersections “safer”, in fact they tend to cause MORE accidents!

      This “Intersection Safety Program” has always been about money! Extra taxes from the driving public to enhance the coffers of the city. Even the mayor said they had a good thing going until the state got involved. Why should the city and ATS ONLY profit from illegal taxes? The state should get a cut as well.

      I encourage you to look at the law suits, the judges have ruled that these programs are illegal, and should be removed. As for your tickets being your fault, why could you not teach your teen drivers the proper technique and reprimand them yourself when they broke the law. You need big brother to do so?

    • R.M Worley says:

      Detroit? Which area did you Live?

  10. HARRYM says:

    people need to vote to get these guys out , what good is city council when they don’t care for the law , courts have ruled about this case , and still don’t care , these guys run this city like the mafia in ny , they do what ever they want to do and nobody stop them ,its a joke here in p.c. when are these people going to wake up in this town , no lights, sidewalks, sewers, but that ok , the people don’t need it ,but the council say hey we build a city hall , and spend the town money, all I no when you push people around , after while the people will push up and its never good, what the people need its a strong lawyer to put in a case action lawsuits in federal court, and ask the feds to step in and check pc books , you can’t tell me these are not getting paid under the table why would they change their mind on this case,

  11. Michael says:

    These politicians and City manager take lying to an entirely new level; Nets just admitted it was all about the money until the state got involved. Landon says it is harassment, yet he signed a multi-year contract with ATS, gentleman, hope you have a fire extinguisher with you to put your pants out. Tell ATS sue us, because if I get a ticket I will mail back with a big old FU written on it telling them to prove it was I. I usually do not rant, but this was never anything more than money making scheme by our own City Council, now they were caught and the political tap dance has started. I really cannot wait to see who takes the fall for this, will the Council finally discipline Mr. Landon for such a poor contractual negotiation, or just let him slide again. Then again, this is political so no one will get into any hot water, it is what it is, we are the government and we can make poor decisions and no one will get into trouble. Try this in the private sector and at the least, you would be on a performance improvement plan, or terminated for poor job performance. Our council makes a huge financial blunder ( was okay when they were stealing from the citizens) and now they try to turn it around, you are a group of habitual liars, the problem is your lies cost taxpayers money, look in the mirror Mr. Nets, you are a lair.

  12. liberal says:

    If we citizens break the law, we get arrested. Why don’t public officials like mayors and commissioners get arrested if they commit a crime? And why cant we refund all the people who were ‘illegally’ ticketed over the past many years? Maybe making those public officials personally financially responsible for their wrongdoings….
    Maybe some term limits for those who are costing us $$$$$

    [Note: all council seats are limited to two terms.–FL]

  13. deb stolley says:

    remember all this next election day.

  14. The Truth says:

    I am shocked, a politician lied?

  15. The negative terms about the Palm Coast red light camera program in Pierre Tristam’s article: perversion, blackmail, harassing, bad faith, deceptions, lies, law-breaking, scheme, charade, etc. are ALL accurate. ATS and the State of Florida are for-profit business partners in scams to strip millions of dollars from Florida residents and visitors to enrich the bloated state budget and the economy of Arizona for ATS.

    The official Florida OPPAGA report echoed other legitimate studies Mr. Tristan mentioned to show about a 12% increase in crash rates at camera intersections. Neither the state nor ATS care about causing more crashes with the cameras, so long as the flow of loot continues. This is immoral, but very profitable.

    Note that Palm Coast is NOT the first city blackmailed by a predatory ticket camera company, and it won’t be the last. Ticket cameras are a dirty money grab industry that should be banned by law in every state. Palm Coast residents need to pressure the council to end the cameras. ALL Florida residents need to contact their state Representatives, Senators, and the Governor to politely demand that House Bill 4025 to ban the cameras statewide becomes law. The contact information is here:
    http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/sections/representatives/myrepresentative.aspx
    http://www.flsenate.gov/senators/find and http://www.flgov.com/contact-governor/

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  16. Heading North says:

    To Percy’s Mom
    I live in a small rural township exactly 4.6 (4 and 6/10 miles) from the Canadian border and the St. Lawrence River. It’s a small town named Constable, NY and you won’t find it on a map cause it’s too small!
    There’s always room for good neighbors here!

  17. confidential says:

    The problem in this county is that the taxpayers don’t come out and vote…Half of the one’s casting a ballot are informed and half are not!
    Otherwise how could we explain that keep on being re-elected most of the same city and county incumbents after for example: by referendum we said NO city hall and they approved it for 15 million anyway and as soon as they start building it they (city council) approves a utility loan for 30 million to build a second sewer plant? but (read my lips) no more increases in 5 years..well we had 16% total these 3 years. That was after they miss spent our utilities reserves of over 20 million to benefit their Town Center buddies.
    First was the county and still is squeezing our pockets for their Taj Mahal, Airport Hangars for the wealthy, Mori Hosseini useless overpriced Plantation Bay utility and that derelict hospital…
    FBI is still investigating PC, not over yet so lets wait for the results. City and County waiting on investigative inquiries…Too bad is that has to get to this point.

  18. Mitchell says:

    I would like to know how many car accidents are rear-end collisions at red light cameras.

  19. DoubleGator says:

    Stupid decision in the first place. Dumb decision to remove the escape clause. Now they are in a box and it’s CYA time. Meanwhile the citizens/public are relentless gouged by the automotron. Tar and feathering would be appropriate.

  20. FloridaLove91 says:

    One word for this issue that suits palm coast as well RIDICULOUS

  21. common sense Janet says:

    My home town in Ohio had the dilemma of getting rid of their red light cameras, too. They made it a policy to not ticket anyone unless there was a police officer stationed at that intersection at the time of the infraction. Surely there is something that can be done to stop this madness. I do appreciate that the yellow light has been extended at the intersections, but it is still worrisome when you approach them.

  22. m&m says:

    Nobile you’re just like the rest of the council and city manager, one lies and the other one swears to it..

    • Joe says:

      just a lot of talk to get elected, no action! Maybe the citizens of PC should sue the city, ” costs for law suits against the City are covered by ATS.”

  23. Ken Dodge says:

    I speak as one who completed the ATS/City of PC course in driver behavior modification for the low tuition of $150+. As for the rest of my fellow motorists: the beatings will continue until morale improves.

  24. john brady says:

    Two things are clear to me regarding this issue and other issues in Palm Coast:
    #1 Jim Landon needs to be reeled in. He needs to be supervised. He is allowed to make to many costly decisions without oversight
    #2 Mayor Netts and City Council have failed to provide that supervision
    My thoughts would be to have a strong Mayor form of government and that way the chief executive officer would be responsible by election of the people. The mayor should be the city manager
    I have further questions for the current Council and Mayor:
    Why can the City Manager sign contracts of this nature without approval?
    How can the City Manager remove an escape clause without approval?
    How can the City contract for a service that has been deemed by Courts to be illegal?
    Why sign a contract for 7 years in 2012 when the subject and service provided by the contract was under review in several Courts?
    My view of the political structure in Palm Coast is the mayor and City Council are the City Manager’s lap dogs

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