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Palm Coast May Reduce Red-Light Cameras to 5, But Won’t Scrap Program For Fear of ATS

| February 24, 2015

Lucrative as it is--it draws the most violations--the red-light camera at Old Kings Road and Kings Way would be among the five that the city would keep in place in an agreement with ATS, the system's provider. (© FlaglerLive)

Lucrative as it is–it draws the most violations–the red-light camera at Old Kings Road and Kings Way would be among the five that the city would keep in place in an agreement with ATS, the system’s provider. (© FlaglerLive)

The Palm Coast City Council is not fearful of a lawsuit from motorists who’ve been cited through cameras for red-light violations. Council members expect just such a lawsuit very soon, the latest in a series of lawsuits that have plagued divisive red-light camera programs in Palm Coast, across Florida and the rest of the nation. But the council is fearful of a lawsuit from American Traffic Solutions, or ATS, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based private company that runs Palm Coast’s red-light camera hardware and administers much of its citation system.

For that reason, rather than scrapping the city’s red-light camera system altogether, the council now appears closer to reducing the number of cameras from 43 to five, and possibly 10, also reducing its revenue considerably–but not its work load, which, if anything, will proportionately increase, because under that new arrangement, the city will be responsible for some of the work previously (and illegally) delegated to ATS.

Even council member Steven Nobile, elected on a promise to eliminate the red-light cameras and the panel’s most aggressive member advocating suspension in recent weeks, edged back from that option when it was presented to the council Tuesday morning, calling it “a tough one.”

“I personally don’t want to bear the wrath of a company of that size attempting to survive the market,” Nobile said. “Even if we can match them, I don’t want to.” He favors reducing the cameras to five and reducing the contract length by two years.

That’s the task the city council assigned Jim Landon, the city manager, in continuing negotiations with ATS. When Landon negotiated the contract renewal in 2012, the result was a contract stretching to 2019, and the elimination of a clause that would have allowed Palm Coast to opt out unilaterally: those clauses were not discussed by the council until after the contract was drafted. They had not been council directives. But the council approved them.

Now, ATS may agree to reduce the contract by one or two years, but if so, the city would have to give up all income from the cameras and still perform the 25 hours a week of work that its staff would be required to perform. In other words, Palm Coast would become the equivalent of an employee of ATS, administering the system so that the money it generates goes exclusively to the state and to ATS.

Several council members were willing to suspend the program entirely when they had previously discussed the matter earlier this month, pending legal clarification about the city’s contract with ATS. But the city attorney today warned council members that if they did so, ATS would would take it as a “termination,” and would “fight vigorously any effort to suspend,” including suing the city for breach of contract.

The council would be willing to end all its revenue from the cameras while preserving that of ATS, and picking up some of ATS’ responsibilities.

That eliminated the suspension option. Another option–the status quo–eliminated itself, because it is illegal: an appeals court ruled last year and reaffirmed this year that ATS was illegally issuing the sort of citations that Florida law requires only government agencies to issue. Those are the citations that are issued once a motorist cited with the original notice of violation, or NOV, of $158, fails to pay that $158 fine. The ticket then becomes a state-issued violation of $264. But ATS may not issue that violation, as it has been doing.

Currently, any motorists cited with a $158 may legally ignore it: the motorist will not face a $264 ticket, and the original citation will not be enforceable, as long as the issuing agency is not a local or state government. But on Tuesday, the council indicated that it would be willing to pick up that responsibility, even though earlier this month Landon had said it would not be an option.

At the time, Landon was speaking of a system of 43 cameras generating 132,000 “events,” or potential tickets, of which 32,000 were forwarded to the city for review. Of those, about half resulted in the issuance of violation notices. The reduction of the system would reduce the number of “events” to between 20,000 and 23,000, Landon said, with the city having to review half that number–but also issue the violations it was not issuing before. Its workload would be reduced in one pile but increased in another. And the city would be responsible for mailing costs.

“Then we’re absorbing some of the cost that they used to have but we don’t get any kind of a rebate for it,” Council member Bill McGuire summed up, referring to ATS.

There’s another reason the council was reluctant to scrap the system altogether. It expects to be sued as part of a class-action lawsuit to be filed across the state, by motorists claiming that the system has been illegal since its implementation in 2010, and therefore they should be eligible for refunds. As ATS is fighting to keep as many of the 30-some contracts it has with local governments in Florida, it is also enticing them with a proposal: if they stick with ATS, the company would pay the legal cost of fighting that class-action lawsuit. If they leave, they’re on their own.

Where Cameras Would Remain

  • Northbound, Old Kings Rd. North at Kings Way
  • Northbound Cypress Pt. Pkwy at Boulder Rock Drive
  • Westbound Palm Coast Pkwy at Harbor Center
  • Northbound Belle Terre Pkwy at Rymfire Drive
  • Northbound Belle Terre Pkwy at Cypress Point Pkway

The argument is not convincing to council member Jason DeLorenzo, who’s long opposed red-light cameras. He was willing to go with the suspension, but had little support from the rest of the council. He agreed to the elimination of most cameras, but also the reduction of the contract by two years, even at the cost of losing all local revenue (which would otherwise amount to about $43,000 a year, by Landon’s calculation). Initially, Landon has been directed to go for the two-year reduction but also preserve the $43,000 a year in revenue.

“Now, if they come back and say no way, if you do that you lose the $3,500 a month, I’m OK with that, too,” Nobile said.

“Don’t say that out loud,” Jon Netts, the mayor, admonished Nobile. “Don’t say that out loud.”

“And ask for the indemnification from the class-action lawsuit,” DeLorenzo said, pressing a concession he wants from ATS. He clarified moments later: “If they’re so confident that they can defeat us in court, that our own case doesn’t change it that much, if they can defeat us in court, then fine, put their money where their mouth is and protect us.”

It’s not clear whether ATS will agree to all of Palm Coats’s “nipping and tucking,” as Reischmann, the city attorney, put it to the council.

“This is not easy for me like it is maybe for you and Jason,” McGuire said to Nobile, “because I believe that the red-light cameras are a good thing for the city. I do not want to see any of them go away, but I realize there’s a movement in that direction. I’m trying to be open minded about it. But I’m not sold on anything yet. I’m willing to be sold.”

“You’re not making my job easy,” Landon told the council, wrapping up the discussion.

“That’s not our job,” the mayor told him.

“Yes,” the city manager replied, “But there’s some of it I’m very confident I can get accomplished, I’m not so sure I can get it all accomplished is what I’m trying to say.”

34 Responses for “Palm Coast May Reduce Red-Light Cameras to 5, But Won’t Scrap Program For Fear of ATS”

  1. m&m says:

    Keep the cameras and get rid of Landon.

  2. KB63 says:

    The City needs to get rid of the ATS contract. If the City is sued the attorney who wrote/approved the contract should in turn be sued for malpractice. Any attorney right out of law school knows there’s always an “out” clause – especially with something as big as this. Where was the City’s attorney who should have advised no, no, hell no to the contract when Landon “negotiated the contract renewal in 2012, the result was a contract stretching to 2019, and the elimination of a clause that would have allowed Palm Coast to opt out unilaterally”. Whatever Landon & the others involved got out of making this deal with ATS I hope it’s worth it because they all need to be fired immediately & someone who didn’t make the asinine deal in the first place needs to be working to get them out of it – not the guy who ATS has in their pocket!

  3. Billy Bob says:

    Wow. It’s interesting that the 5 cameras being kept – not because they are at the 5 intersections that have seen the largest decrease in red light running accidents – but because they are the 5 most lucrative cameras. It’s all about the money and it has been from day one.

    As for the numbers, 132,000 events? I find it impossible to believe that 132,000 cars are blasting through red lights in Palm Coast. I wish we new how many red light running crashes there were before and after the red light cameras. I bet it was around 10 a month (minimal). And now they are ticketing 20,000-32,000 people? What kind of logic is that?

    The whole thing is ugly, from its inception (never voted on by the city’s residents, the money going to the state and some out of state corporation, to the termination clause being removed, to some council members still trying to hold onto it and spouting the same “safety” rhetoric that got this city into this mess in the first place. Enough is enough. Be done with it already.

  4. neverwas says:

    The cameras have hurt our economy from the start. Many people in neighboring areas avoid shopping in Palm Coast because of them. That extra spending and tax money would be helping us recover and grow again. We have a great town, but we have terrible elected officials who don’t look at the big picture before they sign contracts.
    Get rid of all cameras now that we have a chance to. The class action lawsuit legal cost is no reason to keep ATS here. They will be bankrupt in a matter of days once the lawsuits start and palm coast will be fending for itself. So it makes no sense to keep them here any longer. Wipe your hands clean of ATS now.

    • SW says:

      nobody stopped coming here to shop because of cameras. Shop where ? Target?? Cmon you can do better than that. I do agree the elected officials are the worst I have seen any where.

  5. David B. says:

    They should have got rid of all of them. Can’t wait to become part of the class action suit.

  6. Freddy says:

    They need to reduce the salaries of council members and city manager by the amount of money tha city will loose in this debacle. These people caused this mess and should be held financially liable.

  7. SW says:

    I think the whole bunch of you are cowards. Get a set and tell them where to put their cameras and move on. This Podunk Town has bigger issues than this. Pipe Dreamers…..

  8. Anonymous says:

    The people of palm coast voted for these clowns. Who cares how much it cost them

  9. Anonymous says:

    The people of palm coast voted for these clowns. Who cares how much it costs them.

  10. Anonymous says:

    ATS cannot sue for breach of a contract that has pretty much been null and void since the appeals court ruling, unless the supreme court overturns. This city council has been in the pocket of ATS from the start; this is why our city has the most cameras in the state, and exponentially more cameras installed than major cities. It’s why we also happen to be the only jackasses without an escape clause. Don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes, and most importantly, remember who all is responsible for this fiasco come election day.

  11. tomc says:

    Reducing the numbers, as the City Council seems ready to do, makes a lot of sense to me.

  12. David S. says:

    I 100% agree why have just 5 cameras ,get rid of all of thema class action suite I would be part of that in a secound Netts and the rest of this crew need to bury there heads in the sand about this stupid idea from the start its the laughing stock of florida.

  13. djsii says:

    When will our elected officials ever get the message from the citizens who have elected them? They have been informed over and over that red light cameras are a burden that does not enhance safety in the community and has done more harm to our economy than any possible good that could come from it..

    So now the city council wants to legitimize/legalize ATS red light cameras by contractually agreeing to use city employees to administer the system. I’m trying to understand how this becomes a legitimate city expense with no return on the investment of the time they will spend on this effort. This level of effort amounts to over one half of a man-year of work going to ATS. It’s not just 25 hours a week of personal services to ATS that we would be paying for; it is all of the fringe and financial benefits that go along with it. For this we have to endure red light cameras for another 2+ years.

    Will there be an escape clause in the modified contract event that the state declares the use of red light cameras illegal?

    Will the city require that ATS remove all their equipment from public property, rather than abandon it and leave the expense of removal to the taxpayers?

    This whole red light camera ordeal has been a fiasco perpetrated by the greedy and short sighted nature of the city council. It has cost our community, and our businesses, thousands upon thousands of dollars in lost revenue while our city officials were eagerly tripping over the dollars to pick up the dimes that ATS had to offer. The whole sage has been shameful at best.

  14. Michael says:

    How can you be held to a contract that revolves around what is to be considered unconstitutional? Tell ATS to pound salt and have the court rule on it. This all stems from a greedy government system looking to gain income, put in cameras and fine the public, ask for forgiveness later when it is deemed illegal. Just shows politicians real motive and colors, you bribe someone in the private sector you can go to prison, you have politicians being bribed it is called lobbying, what a crock of crap our country’s political system has become.

  15. Flatsflyer says:

    ATS is owned by Mitt Romney and Goldman Sachs, screw them they are both 1% idiots. Cancel the contract because STS keeps changing the T’s & C’s. The original contract is null and void because of the illegal activities and the ATS business model.

  16. El Kabong says:

    How about putting mechanical SPIKES at all intersections. You don’t move your car forward until the SPIKES are DOWN or……..”you know what” happens !!!! We don’t need no stinkin camera’s !!

  17. It is truly pitiful when the contracts with a for-profit money grab ticket camera company from Arizona can dictate improper policies for some local governments in Florida.

    Red light cameras are, and always have been, a money grab racket set up to benefit the state treasury that gets 52.5% of the camera loot without paying a penny of the high camera costs – plus the for-profit camera companies that get another 20% to 40% of the loot. The official OPPAGA report showed crashes INCREASED at camera intersections by about 12% – but neither the state nor the for-profit camera companies care at all about reducing safety, so long as the camera loot rolls in.

    If there is justice in this whole issue, the court cases will prevail, the camera systems like this one will be declared illegal, and total refunds will be ordered. This is unlikely, because courts tend to side with the money in traffic cases, not with justice. But rulings might just get many of the money grab camera systems turned off permanently. The Florida public is certainly “turned off” about the cameras and wants them gone.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  18. Sherry Epley says:

    The attorney that approved the original, incredibly flawed, contract with ATS should be fired immediately! How in the world would any attorney recommend a contract that is so one sided. . . as to allow any vendor to implement a product or service with no recourse if that product or service is found to be unsuitable. . . or in this case possibly illegal.

    The city council members who signed that contract should also be held accountable. No one in such a position should be signing contracts, or legislation, or anything else blindly because of the approval of legal opinion or staff recommendation.

  19. Nalla C. says:

    Let’s see if I understand correctly–the Council is not afraid of the residents, but it’s afraid of a private company lawsuit.

    Regardless of how this goes, everyone reading this needs to think long and hard about the implications of that Big Picture.

  20. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    It’s not the Attorney’s fault… it’s Landon and the City Council’s fault. They saw an easy money stream and sold it to us as “safety”. John Netts should resign today for the mess he has caused this city. The rest of the clowns that voted for this are already gone. Now he’s afraid and acting like he’s trying to solve the problem, which he created! So they come up with a half hazard solution that basically holds the city hostage does very little to right the ship.
    Take all the cameras down today, and dare ATS to sue. I’d rather the City loose in Court than be held hostage.

  21. M says:

    Landon encouraged this and owns this dilemma. Now what. Threatened the well being of our community. Why? What motivated Mr. Landon to put our community directly in harms way? Why? Time to break free of a bad deal made by this “manager” in the first place. At the same time get rid of Mr. Landon. Palm Coast has had enough of his antics. Go somewhere else.

  22. Rob says:

    If this is not a crock of xxxx I don’t know what is. The attorney who wrote the contract worked for, and was directed by none other than the Mayor. That guy, the mayor, has done more harm than good to this city.
    Thank the 1500 or so people who voted him back into office, or the masses that didn’t vote.

    What happened to Nobile and his anti red light advocacy. ” Yeah just elect me and I’ll take it from there”.
    And what about Heidi Shipley is she Jon Nett’s silent partner?

    This city / town council / town manager throws away money whenever it pleases, and bullies those who it wants to, now they are cowering in the corner like wusses when it is time to stand up. Or at least that is the rationale they use to circumvent direct action. They have more tricks than Houdini had to get around from removing those cameras.

    Those petitions to put the red light issue to a referendum should have been submitted. Instead the organizer didn’t because he believed that the people he endorsed would be anti red light camera advocates. Surprise. Once they get into office they seem to lose their way.

  23. YankeeExPat says:

    The red light cameras are the reason you don’t shop in (Mayberry), um I mean Palm Coast.. Huh?…
    So where do you yahoos’ go? …….. to Mount Pilot ?…….Typical Podunk Politics!…., Palatka is a looking more metropolitan than Palm Coast lately.

  24. Anonymous says:

    It’s time for the complainers to realize most of Palm Coasters are safe drivers and want the cameras
    That is why Landon is still there and city hall is being built and the cameras will stay. If he wasn’t doing
    what the people want he would be gone. Stop causing discontent.

    • Nalla C. says:

      Such nonsense. Most of the people here are as good of drivers as anywhere else, but if you believe that most of us actually want those cameras, I’m not sure where you’re getting that information. I have yet to meet one champion of them besides Landon and his band of crooks–and my job puts me in contact with a lot of locals on a daily basis.

      That being said, I also do not believe people have stopped shopping here because of them, particularly since Daytona and Ormond Beach both use them now, and St. Augustine doesn’t have enough shopping worth driving to, unless you’re looking for outlet shopping.

      • Anonymous says:

        The voters spoke at the last election. If the people wanted something different they wouldn’t have voted for the same group. Live with it

  25. KB63 says:

    Someone please explain to me. I just looked up the contract amendment. It’s on this agenda:

    Paragraph 11, Termination of Agreement states (I have copied & pasted) :
    22(a)(7) The Agreement shall terminate in the event that state legislation or a decision by a court of competent jurisdiction prohibits the enforcement of Violations using image-capture technology. In the event of such a termination, Contractor shall cease capturing new violations but shall continue to process any violations already in the pipeline as of the date of termination. Contractor shall be entitled to its fees from the revenue from such violations; be able to recover an amount of revenue collected from the program sufficient to cover Contractor’s costs in excess of fees paid to date, but the City shall in no event be responsible for the payment of any of Contractor’s fees or costs in excess of net program revenue. Contractor shall remove all equipment consistent with the provisions of Paragraph 13 (iv) entirely at its own expense;

    The Florida Supreme Court (obviously a “Court of Competent Jurisdiction”) has said the cameras are illegal. What am I missing in this contract? Was this paragraph taken out of the final version? How could the City be afraid of terminating the contract with ATS if this clause is there?

  26. Since 1987 says:

    KB63, I think that the term “prohibits the enforcement of Violations using image-capture technology” has not yet been met. There are more ways to enforce other than Uniform Traffic Citation.

  27. Steven Nobile says:

    I just want to make one thing clear. The CAMERAS and the IMAGING component of the red-light cameras are still LEGAL. The issue is simple with the process of issuing Uniform Traffic Citations. This can be interpreted as a minor adjustment to the contract with the need to terminate the contract. My opinion is that ATS, in the eyes of the judiciary, will have a valid case to sue us for breach of contract. We may win, we may lose, but either way we will have to represent ourselves and that will cost big.

    I would love to be rid of the debacle, but for now, this is the safest way to reduce the number of cameras 90%, the contract by 50% and cost of representing ourselves in a class action suit by 100%.

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