Ruling may give Palm Coast an early out of its contract with American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona Company to which the city outsources its red light camera services.
Palm Coast, FL – October 25, 2014 – Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeals recently struck down the contract between the city of Hollywood and American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona Company to which the city outsourced its red light camera services. American Traffic Solutions provides red light camera services to most of the Florida cities with red light camera ordinances, including Palm Coast.
The ruling is aimed at the process of issuing citations, and does not challenge the legality of the state law authorizing red-light enforcement.
The City of Palm Coast’s ongoing debate about the appropriateness and efficacy of red light cameras has become a political rallying point and a public relations nightmare for the city. It began as a debate about whether or not the cameras were effective. Later, it was about the city’s motivation. Was it safety or was it revenue. As local elections approached, it became clear that most voters hated the system.
The business community is concerned that the cameras discourage people from shopping locally and may sway individuals’ or business’s decisions to locate here.
City manager Jim Landon has reportedly begun talks with ATS to find a way to extricate the city from the current long-term contract set to expire in 2019. The 4th DCA’s ruling may give the city the out that it needs, but that out will likely come at a price.
The court struck down an ATS contract to provide a red light camera system to the city of Hollywood. Outsourcing the responsibility of ticketing drivers to a “third-party” for-profit vendor was not legal under Florida law, the Judges rule.
The key for Palm Coast will be the extent to which city employees and, more specifically, the city traffic infraction enforcement officer (TIEO) are involved with each citation.
Under the Hollywood contract, which is reportedly similar to ATS’s agreement with other cities, the vendor determines which incidents are subject to prosecution, creates the citation, issues the citation to the vehicle owner and transmits the data to the municipal court.
As reported in the DBR Daily Business Review, 4th DCA Judge Mark Klingensmith noted the only role the city traffic officer plays in the process is the “clicking of a digital ‘accept’ button” when ATS forwards an image to the city.
The ATS computer then handles the printing and mailing of the violation notice to the registered owner of the vehicle, Klingensmith said. If the car owner doesn’t respond, ATS generates a citation “and inserts a computer-generated signature of the TIEO along with the TIEO’s badge number,” he said. “After clicking “accept,’ the TIEO never actually sees the citation, nor is the TIEO otherwise involved in its issuance.”
“In Florida, only law enforcement officers and traffic enforcement officers have the legal authority to issue citations for traffic infractions, which means only law enforcement officers and traffic enforcement officers are entitled to determine who gets prosecuted for red-light violation,” the judge wrote.
If the ruling applies to Palm Coast’s ATS agreement, it might give the city leverage to terminate the contract early, but it might also open up the city to the expense of reimbursing vehicle owners for past violations ruled to have been issued improperly.