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Palm Coast Close To Suspending Red-Light Camera Program as Legal Challenges Mount

| February 10, 2015

The sun is setting on Palm Coast's red-light camera program.  (Robb Ebright)

The sun is setting on Palm Coast’s red-light camera program. (Robb Ebright)

The Palm Coast City Council may formally suspend the city’s red-light camera program as early as March 3 as Florida law is now explicit that portions of the city’s program are illegal, and city officials find their current situation “untenable.”

City Council member Steven Nobile was ready too suspend the program immediately, as he told the council in a workshop this morning. Mayor Jon Netts, once an ardent supporter of the program, nearly concurred. “I’m beginning to agree with Mr. Nobile,” Netts said. “This thing should not drag out. Where we are is untenable. Let’s get a resolution. If the resolution is a declaratory judgment, so be it.”

“I think the program is inherently good, I think the state of Florida messed it up so badly that it’s probably irrevocably broken. But I don’t want to just see this thing go on. And to say that we’re going to suspend the program, I wouldn’t be surprised if ATS says we’re going to sue you for breach of contract. If we’re going to suspend it, I think we ought to suspend it at the same time ask for a declaratory judgment from the judge.”

And Jim Landon, the city manager, told the council that it was time for it to make a decision. But he and City Attorney Bill Reischmann cautioned the council against taking a decision before Landon and Reischmann meet with American Traffic Solutions officials Thursday to discuss the city’s contract.

“We’re going to work very hard Thursday to pin down ATS on these issues,” Reischmann said. “It really depends on whether I’ve got a partner to that discussion, whether they’re willing to respond to our concerns, and what our suggestions are, and what they’re going to do in response” to the city’s various options.

ATS believes “there is a solution,” Reischmann said. “All of that can be taken care with a modification to their business rules. It’s their idea of how to amend the contract. That’s debatable.” But ATS officials would also want the chance to go before the council to respond to its questions.

The city has three options, as Reischmann presented them: amend the contract with ATS so the city can comply with the law, which would mean that Palm Coast would have to pick up responsibilities previously—and now illegally–delegated to ATS. Palm Coast suspended that portion of the agreement, so it would not be in violation of law. And Landon and the council have made clear they have no interest in picking up those responsibilities: the city has neither the personnel nor the money to do so.

The city could invoke Section 27 of its contract with ATS and suspend the red-light camera program altogether. It could also renegotiate the length of the contract with ATS, which does not expire until 2019. “I would suggest at the next workshop we put these options in front of you,” Landon said, referring to the Feb. 24 workshop, with a final decision to be taken by the council, by vote, at the subsequent business meeting at the Palm Coast Community Center, on March 3.

Netts pinned down the attorney, asking him specifically, regarding Thursday’s negotiations with ATS, “what positions are you going to suggest that the city council is taking? Or is this just an open negotiation? Because I think they need to know that we’re very serious about resolving this issue.”

“I have not had that conversation with the city manager,” Reischmann said. “I believe that it would be appropriate for the City of Palm Coast at this time to suspend the program pending further clarity from the court system on our contract, and I would be surprised if ATS is going to be willing to amend the contract such that the change that would have to be done and the mechanics of the issuance of the NOVs and the UTCs could be done in a fashion they would be satisfied with, based on earlier conversations.”

“I concur with that,” Landon said.

NOVs are Notices of Violation, which are generated when a driver is certified by ATS to have run a red light. That fine is $158, if paid immediately. Those NOVs are still being issued. But if a driver refuses to pay or challenges the ticket, the NOV converts into a Uniform Traffic Citation, and the fine rises to around $264. The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that ATS cannot legally issue those UTC tickets. They must be issued by a local government, or by the state.

That’s what’s thrown the system in disarray. To stay on the legal side of the law, Palm Coast has ordered ATS to stop issuing the UTC tickets. In effect, a driver may get a $158 Notice of Violation and refuse to pay it. That driver is no longer liable for a fine–either the $158 or the UTC, because the driver will not get a UTC, and after 60 days, the original $158 ticket becomes invalid.

If all drivers were to simply ignore their $158 violation, the system would not generate any money, and drivers would not be incurring any additional fines–or facing legal ramifications. ATS has no authority to pursue those drivers. Nor does Palm Coast.

“I’m uncomfortable with what we’re doing right now,” Landon said, referring to the half-way measure in place: issuing the NOV, but not following up with UTCs if necessary. “I think we’re headed towards that suspension, but I do think we need to go through it and carefully and through our normal process, to make that decision, so you have all the information before we just shoot from the hip and hopefully hit the target. But unless ATS comes up with some surprise, I think we’re headed in that direction.”

“I think we are, too,” Netts said.

“In order to comply with our contract we have to break the law,” Nobile said said, pressing his case for an immediate suspension. Nobile was elected last November in part on a promise to end the city’s unpopular red-light camera program.

So by all appearances from the council’s discussion this morning, the council is ready to end its program as it is now configured.

ATS, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company that runs the city’s red-light camera program and dozens like it across Florida, is facing a class-action lawsuit, as is Palm Coast, filed in November by drivers who claim they’ve been illegally ticketed. Reischmann said the League of Cities appears ready to provide the legal defense for that case, probably keeping Palm Coast from having to spend money in its own legal defense.

“In the meantime though,” council member Heidi Shipley said, “we need to let people exactly what’s going on with the red-light cameras, because as I’ve told you before, the social media is saying that we don;t fight any tickets, it won;t be challenged in court.”

“And that’s correct, essentially that’s a true statement,” Netts said.

30 Responses for “Palm Coast Close To Suspending Red-Light Camera Program as Legal Challenges Mount”

  1. Nalla C. says:

    Get this illegal, useless, waste of taxpayer money, taxpayer harassment and traffic danger OFF OUR STREETS.

    This is not rocket science, insofar as ATS will do anything to keep its revenue stream flowing, even if it means burdening an already over-burdened low-level staff at the City, anointing them arbiters of dispensing citations. Let’s hear it for the Corporate Free Market! No, wait, let’s not. This whole thing is completely and totally ridiculous. I almost got slammed by a semi last night, having come to a stop at PC Parkway and Cypress Point. This crap has to stop before someone dies.

  2. Payback says:

    I want my fine money back. I paid it because I did not want to lose my license or spend months in court. Seems a mechanic test driving my vehicle while I sat in the customer lobby, decided to turn left on a red light. Oh yea, it showed up my license tag…but when I told them it was in for repairs, they said PROVE IT !
    My mistake was not checking the invoice receipt for time. It had the date but NOT the time. They said I was still held responsible.
    I stopped going to that car repair business. And yes it was a dealership here local.

  3. confidential says:

    I want my $158 fine refunded. Same reason as Payback above. Not even sure I was in that SUV!

  4. Obama 2015 says:

    I wonder if a lawyer will help us with a Class action lawsuit so we can all get our money back. Even if I just get 1.00 back I want to set an example.

    I do however believe the cameras should stay for accidents, amber and silver alerts.

  5. Mike says:

    The Red Light Camera is just one of many bad decisions made by the Palm Coast City Head Shed, we are run by a bunch of clowns that all need to get voted out and who need to step down. The Mayor should pack his bags and lead the way.

  6. #1 Gator Fan says:

    I got one in 2010 and 2014. I want my money back…$316….I don’t think I ran a red light either time but it’s not worth the trouble to take off work or risk getting my license suspended and they know it not to mention getting rear ended. Most cities have shot this ill founded and corrupt system down. I think everybody who got a ticket should be refunded their money immediately. SCAM SCAM SCAM! I would have never moved here if I had know this. I don’t even shop here because of this foolishness. I hope Palm Coast is enjoying the tax money I willingly give each month to St Johns and Volusia Counties.

    • Anonymous says:

      I totally agree. I live in Palm Coast, but I refuse to shop here. I hate the red light scam. It makes our town look cheap. If we want people to visit Palm Coast or even move here, get rid of this foolish ways. My tax dollars on times end up in Voluisa County or St. John’s.

  7. Bob Scholer. says:

    I DON’T know if anybody realizes but if You pay the Fine you are paying A bribe to keep your license ,by FLORIDA law a certain amount of points for RED LIGHTS,Speeding,DUI,Your license is either revoked or suspended. YOu can pass RED LIGHTS WITH THIS PROGRAM all day long ,Receive NO Points No rate increase in Your Insurance Premiums . If this is not Illegal or a Bribe IDon’t know what is.

  8. lena Marshal says:

    about time, they have one out there by the hospital now, and all the old people are blowing through it ! And not because they are speeding,

  9. confidential says:

    This is what happens when greed takes over! We were fine just cameras in very few important intersections then these greedy ATS and PC officials decided to proliferate them eve one by the very corner of my block….totally nonsense. Now my cost us dearly. Retarded projects!

  10. markingthedays says:

    Maybe if we complain about speeding tickets enough, they will abolish speed limits too! While we are at it, how about we no longer stop for school busses or crosswalks?

    Dear Palm Coast drivers: You suck and even a hefty fine for red light runners STILL won’t stop you from running lights as if you’re being paid to do it. What will make you obey basic driving laws?

    • Nalla C. says:

      Your concern is noted. If you’ve really been paying attention, however, you already know the bad of this program far, FAR outweighs the good.

  11. Derrick R. says:

    What is section 27?
    And why would you have negotiations unless you were looking for a deal, why make a deal until after they get ruled illegal?
    Further who pays for the electricity those units use?

  12. Mark P Bialkoski says:

    As a Law Enforcement Officer for over 30 years I have seen first hand what happens when vehicles go through red lights. However I have always opposed red light cameras as a way to lower crashes at busy intersections. There are systems that can quickly calculate if a vehicle will not stop in time and will then hold the opposite direction signal from turning green.
    As far as the legality of the cameras, they will still be legal as long as a Certified Police Officer reviews the video and makes the determination regarding the violation (but that is not what happens in Palm Coast).

  13. blondee says:

    @marking the days: I couldn’t have said it better myself!

  14. HARRYM says:

    Why those pc need to wait to march 3 , , first pc, said we have wait for the court ruling ,that was last week, its sound like more bs on pc council, the law is the law, its illegal for these cameras to be on , pc can’t change thr rules in the middle of the game , so they can keep them on. A suspension mean right now not later, holly hills and daytona has their cameras off for months, its seem like pc just want to keep them on, and change the rules for them. Everybody who got a ticket should sue this city, or sue the board member personaly for running illegal scam .Pc worried more about red lights program then lights for the citizen neighborhood and sidewalk, how many more people need to died by no lights in the street , what the people need is case action law suit and then pc will wake up.

  15. JimBob says:

    “Inherently good” although illegal–these commissioners have been wined and dined by the red light charlatans and now back away hoping to be (and probably being) re-elected. If any single one is re-elected Palm Coast should be boycotted by every Flagler County citizen.

  16. David B. says:

    I see a lot of mistrust between the city and the elected officials. Nobody wants to work together to resolve this issue.

  17. DoubleGator says:

    Stupid greedy decision to begin with and left in place for far too long. Please identify for me the specific individuals who voted to implement this system. I’d like to be sure to never vote for them. And how much will it cost the taxpayers to rid ourselves of this blight.

  18. Rob says:

    “And Landon and the council have made clear they have no interest in picking up those responsibilities: the city has neither the personnel nor the money to do so.”

    Hasn’t Netts, McQuire, Landon, Lewis, Moorman, Meeker and all the rest say it was never about money.
    If its not about money then why is picking up those responsibilities an issue.

    So it was and is about money. You can bet if the city can find away to keep the dollars flowing they will be all in.

    Where was Shipley in this discussion? And why can’t Nobile make a motion at the next meeting and force a vote?

  19. william s harvey says:

    lets face it, we do not really have a highly intelligent bunch of people running our city. people like shipley and nobile will use this position as a stepping stone to get to the next level of government.

  20. David S. says:

    I vote to get netts and the rest of council shipped down to glades county or somewhere where they can run a town of 2,000 people or less.

  21. David S. says:

    May I also agree with the previous comment that 90% percent of our tax dollars are spent in St Johns and Volusia Co not here in Flagler.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Tar and feather

  23. Anonymous says:

    Wow, look at all that face-saving. Everybody needs to be out there recording when the red light cameras come down, upload the footage to YouTube and celebrate this victory of the people over a renegade city government.

  24. FB Resident says:

    I got a red light ticket and my vehicle never left the garage on the day I was issued a ticket. How does that happen? I too just paid it cause how can you prove from a blurry pic that it was not me or my car. It is the only ticket I have ever received in my 38yrs of driving.

  25. Conservative says:

    The people are loudly speaking….remove the red light cameras…NOW! The greed of Netts and his puppet master, Landon has consumed them. Netts is now changing his position on the red light camera issue because he knows its not a battle he can win. Far too often do we hear uttered comments from Landon and Netts painting a honkey dorey beautiful picture when that is really not the case. These men deny accusations and use the media to pull the wool over our eyes all the time.

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