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Drive to Scrap Red-Light Cameras by Referendum Ends as Palm Coast Grapples With Consequences of Severing Contract

| May 14, 2014

Whether and how they are removed will be entirely a city council decision, not one driven by a referendum. (Intel Free Press)

Whether and how they are removed will be entirely a city council decision, not one driven by a referendum. (Intel Free Press)

Back in February Carmichael McMillan was sanguine on his drive to eliminate red-light cameras from Palm Coast’s streets. He’d gathered 2,000 petitions of the required 15,000 to trigger a ballot referendum, and had until May 19 to gather the rest. He was certain he’d get the petitions, if not what he called the Palm Coast’s City “capitulation” even before the referendum was floated: when faced with a popular initiative, the council has the option to pre-empt a referendum by amending or repealing the ordinances in contention.

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“If the council doesn’t capitulate, we expect 30,000 people by November,” McMillan said in February. “We will organize for them to show up to vote, so it’s either you capitulate to the petition, or we’ll get 30,000 people to vote against you.” He added: “I expect them to either fight it or capitulate. Either way, at the end of this road we’re on, these cameras will be gone.”

Less than a week from the May 19 deadline, the council has neither capitulated nor quite fought the petition drive. But McMillan has given it up, even though he’d gathered some 11,500 signatures: it’s not necessarily the still-daunting task of securing the remaining 4,000 signatures in such a short time, or more than the 4,000, since the petition-qualifying process usually ends up shedding a hefty percentage of petitions. Rather, McMillan told his Facebook community on May 8,
he was worried about the penalty the city may have to pay to the red-light camera company should the city be forced to pull out of its contract, which runs through 2019.

That question came up during a city council meeting Tuesday, as it had in a meeting a week earlier, when council member Bill McGuire worried about the implications of severing the contract prematurely. But as in the previous meeting, neither the city attorney nor the city manager were prepared to discuss what those penalties would be, if any did apply.

“I’m not prepared today to put a number on it,” City Attorney Bill Reischmann said Tuesday.

Nor have any numbers been placed on any eventuality at this point. McMillan, however, mischaracterized the issue when he told his Facebook community, by way of explaining why he was ending the referendum drive, that Netts would “use the referendum as an excuse to raise taxes if it were to pass,” a threat Netts never made (and could not make unilaterally, as he would need a majority vote). McMillan also claimed that the elected officials in charge of handling the process “have indicated they will not negotiate in a favorable [manner] to the city”—also a false claim. McMillan was on surer ground when he noted the change in contract language between ATS and the city, after a 2012 amendment to the contract. (See the original contract and the amendment below.)

The city’s contract with American Traffic Solutions does spell out termination terms, but not in all circumstances. According to the contract’s 2012 amendment, the city may be free and clear of the contract, without penalty, if the Legislature were at any point to revoke city’s authority to have red-light cameras in place. That authority was formalized in a 2010 law called the Mark Wandell Act. There’s been several attempts to revoke it since, but none has been successful.

Before the 2012 amendment, the contract with ATS included a clause that allowed the city to terminate the contract of its own authority, at any point it chose to do so, without cause, “if such termination is deemed by the city to be in the public interest,” and with 30 days’ notice.

The 2012 amendment City Manager Jim Landon negotiated with ATS eliminated that clause entirely.

The 2012 amendment states that ATS could terminate the agreement if Palm Coast stopped paying its fees. But it is silent on whether Palm Coast can unilaterally terminate the agreement (unless ATS refuses to provide services). It is also silent regarding any penalties should Palm Coast choose to end the agreement unilaterally, and without cause. In other words, the contract does not spell out consequences. The most the amendment does say in case of severance is to provide for a 90-day period, after the agreement is ended, when citations in the pipeline may be cleared, and their fees collected.

The contract also includes this line, added to the 2012 amendment: “Both parties recognize their respective obligations to mitigate any damage in the event of termination pursuant to this agreement.”

“We’ve had some phone conversations to get that ball rolling,” Landon said of his contact with ATS. But Landon so far has not revealed the substance of those conversations.

That amended agreement was initially set to expire at the end of September 2015. But the amendment included another surprise provision: if ATS were to install new cameras after the 2012 amendment went into effect, the agreement would automatically be extended through September 30, 2019.

None of those provisions were either negotiated openly by the city council, discussed by the council, or approved as such by the council, which to this day remains unaware of the contract’s fine print, including its length. Rather, the council approved the agreement renewal with ATS in general, with little discussion, and the objection of only one council member (Jason DeLorenzo).

On Tuesday, Reischmann outlined the city’s options regarding a referendum on the issue between now and November. The city could enact a new ordinance controlling red-light camera regulations. It could amend existing ordinances. Or it could revoke them, all as preemptive moves to a referendum. Alternately, the city could itself place a referendum on the ballot. It would have to have that language ready by June 20. Voters would get to have their say in November. That referendum could either be binding (that is, the council would have to follow its mandate by enacting or repealing appropriate ordinances). Or it can be advisory—that is, the results would merely be an opinion poll, but not a binding vote.

With McMillan’s drive no longer an issue, the city is relieved of much pressure to do something immediately. On the other hand, council members have been feeling anger rising over red-light cameras, and doing nothing may not be an option.

Palm Coast ATS Contract for Red-Light Cameras

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24 Responses for “Drive to Scrap Red-Light Cameras by Referendum Ends as Palm Coast Grapples With Consequences of Severing Contract”

  1. There ARE things Palm Coast can do.

    1) Add one second to the yellow intervals at all camera intersections, even if FDOT screams about it. This will drastically reduce the straight through violation rates, likely by 70% to 90+%.

    2) Change the “safe and prudent” definition for right on red turns to anything under 20 mph – unless the video reveals an actual failure to yield the right of way to a pedestrian, bicycle or another vehicle. This will drastically drop the right on red ticket rates.

    With the two changes, the violation rates will almost certainly drop lower than the level needed for the fines to even pay the basic camera costs – after the state rips off the first 52.5% of the money grab revenue without paying any of the costs. ATS will then want out of the contract at THEIR request.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

    • they need to add more then one second they took like 3 away and they rigged it so you get stuck at each and every light doubling fuel cost to get across town , its a rip off pure and simple

    • Steve Wolfe says:

      James, that’s a solution for living with the cameras. How do we make intersections safer when they’re gone? I think we need an all-red second or two to allow the late entrants to clear the box and the intersection to calm. Right on red should still require a stop because anything else becomes so personalized that some become very cavalier about the action.

  2. Rich says:

    Looks like more backroom deals

  3. Steve Wolfe says:

    Bravo, Jason D. I wonder if Jason’s objection has anything to do with a position his wife on the Chamber of Commerce might take on the $2.5 -3million that gets drained from the local economy, which is a rather significant quantity of potential lost local business. Our local businesses are struggling due to high unemployment locally, and the unfortunate occurrences of shoppers going out of Palm Coast for more variety or outside shoppers avoiding Palm Coast because of the RLC’s.

    Whatever the causes for struggling local businesses, I just can’t see what is being done to change it. Why do the counties just north and south of Flagler have so much more than we do? For all the negative discussion about Mike Chiumento’s public property transactions, at least he did something. Does that mean that Mike is the only playa? Is there anyone out there that would like to shake things up a little and develop around here? Somebody please enlighten me. If not, I will be reporting back to you in a few more months.
    “You want answers?”
    “I want the TRUTH!”
    “You can’t handle the truth!”
    Maybe I can’t. But I will be in good company.

  4. Ron says:

    Maybe Mr. McMillan couldn’t get 15,000 petition signatures because the majority of residents in Palm Coast DO NOT oppose the cameras, notwithstanding what the vocal minority of anti-camera advocates would lead us to believe.

    • Genie says:

      @ Ron: You may be right, but more likely it’s apathy from the local citizenry. I’d be willing to bet a number have no idea as to the background of this scheme and the fact that accused offenders don’t receive a fair hearing.

      Most of Palm Coast doesn’t even bother to vote and probably never have. Not sure what you do about that, but it likely means the status quo will remain.

  5. Because says:

    Well, someone has been bought off. Money talks………walks.

  6. KB63 says:

    Clear and complete incompetence by the City Manager and the council. Where was the City Attorney in all this? No attorney, not even an unexperienced one, would have anyone sign a 7 year contract without termination provisions. It really seems like Landon must have received a heck of a kick back for his dealings with ATS! I just can’t imagine why or how the City was not protected, it’s like ATS has a strangle hold. Landon needs to go immediately. If the City Attorney approved this contract before the extension, he needs to go immediately and the City needs to seek a malpractice claim against him. Do they seriously wonder why people think they are a bunch of crooks?

  7. Gia says:

    As usual another very bad deal from the gov of PC.

  8. Leann says:

    Vote them all out for getting us into this position.

  9. OMG says:

    He would have gotten my signature if I had know about it..

  10. jc says:

    I don’t like the greed that surrounds these cameras, its not for safety, its really about getting our cash!

  11. General Elector says:

    We did not end the Petition. The petition continues. We simply chose to go about it in a manner that would not lead the city to a financial penalty.

    Our plan of action is as follows:
    1. Get behind “trusted” anti-camera candidates in 2014 and 2016 elections.
    2. If no action is taken by the state legislator or city council in 2014/2015 we will then have the ballot measure placed in 2016 for local and statewide removal.
    3. We will then have an anti-camera council and mayor to deal with the camera company, along with a referendum as their mandate for action. Since the current mayor and city council can’t be trusted to negotiate with the camera company in our favor, we have to wait till we have people we can trust.

    Join us in the effort to remove them at the link below:

    • Seeing Red says:

      @ General Elector
      If you gained petitions to recall the mayor and his sidekick McGuire then there would be a representative town council. The man who was appointed and Lewis probably won’t be re-elected. So there would be 4 slots to fill, 2016 is two years away.
      I don’t believe that stripes on a zebra can be erased. These people aren’t going to turn a over a new leaf. They have categorically stated as much.

      If anyone thinks the protesters are a minority with twice the amount of petitions as total voters in the last election then they are probably the same ones who think there is no such thing as global warming.

  12. confidential says:

    How they dare renewed that pathetic contract in those terms? Bunch of bozos!

  13. ryan says:

    There is something else that we need to know about in regards to these red light cameras. The timers are rigged to turn from yellow to red at different intervals to where you have to slam on the brakes in order to stop when it turns red. There has already been several cases here in FL and other states that have proven that.

  14. markingthedays says:

    All I hear is “blah blah blah, I can’t be bothered to stop at a red light, blah blah blah, I have important stuff to do, not time to be a safe considerate driver, blah, blah blah I shouldn’t be penalized for breaking the law because screw Obama, tickets are for brown people.

    Here’s an idea: Stop running red lights and riding my ass, PC drivers.

  15. Sherry Epley says:

    Right On KB63! What incompetence!

    Who in the world negotiated this contract to begin with. . . I should say did not bother to negotiate this contract?! “Contracts 101” says that every agreement should stipulate conditions under which either party could be released from all the terms of the contract if certain conditions arise or if the terms are not met. Anyone involved in creating this “sorry, my hands are tied” situation should be fired/voted out of office!

  16. tulip says:

    People are posting that they will not vote for any candidate that is PRO traffic cameras. I bet there are more that will vote FOR a candidate because he or she wants the cameras.

    All the people who keep constantly criticizing Palm Coast, which has some faults, should just move out and find the perfect city, perfect government, and camera free. Good luck with all that. And when they do, they could let the rest of us know. lol

    • Steve Wolfe says:

      Yeah, this is such a bogus issue, right? It only sends $2.5-3 million a year out of our struggling local economy. The stats for traffic fatalities at red lights in PC still haven’t been offered, but who’s counting, right? And that contract with ATS, a defacto traffic enforcement contractor 2,000 miles from here, that was handled just like all of us would when we sign contracts, right? Yeah, property owners, tax payers, businesses that get passed over because PC has 5% of the RLC’s in Florida for .5% of the population, and companies that could establish good paying jobs here but won’t give us a second look partly because the RLC’s lay out the UNwelcome mat to potential customers, they all have no issue, right? Never mind that 9 out of 10 RLC votes go against the cameras, right? Yeah, you convinced me. No problems here.

      It isn’t like PC is a bad place, but pretty medians and tough code enforcement does not a city make. And people will vote in record numbers this mid-term year in PC. Hope to see you at the polls. Will you have a tulip on your hat? I’ll be wearing my cheesehead hat.

    • Anonymous says:

      There is no tip toeing through the tulips on my side of Flagler County. 100% of my neighborhood is against the RLCs! Anyone for these RLCs either works for PC or has stock in ATS!

  17. Genie says:

    @ Tulip, there are some good comments here. Is it not a citizen’s right to criticize, ask questions?

    My own question would be how can it be legal to sign a contract which expires beyond the term of office of many on the Council? I am in agreement that there must be circumstances under which the contract may be cancelled. If not, then something is indeed wrong here.

    For those who like the cameras, they were the brain child of Councilman Frank Meeker, I believe. For those who don’t…there is an election coming up.

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