City puts a halt to traffic-enforcement camera petition: Harlan calls decision 'insulting'
September 22, 2011 · Updated 3:10 PM
Redmond elected officials are not giving the green light to a citizen-driven petition calling for a vote on Redmond’s traffic-enforcement camera program.
Mayor John Marchione said the city has no plans of turning the 6,050 signatures over to King County to be validated for a possible ballot item in a special election next February. Elected city officials were advised they were not required to forward the petition, based on a recent state Court of Appeals decision in Bellingham, Marchione said Wednesday afternoon in a conference room at City Hall.
“Our attorney has advised us that this particular topic is not subject to the initiative process and therefore the state law does not apply in this case,” Marchione said. “We have no intention of turning these into the county, but we are weighing their input with all the other input we have received.”
Marchione said City Council members will use the petition effort as public input when they consider extending the one-year pilot program by Dec. 1.
Union Hill resident and Redmond businessman Scott Harlan, the main organizer for Redmond’s first-ever citizen-driven initiative, said city leaders are “obstructing the initiative process that their citizens have engaged in.”
“They are not even getting this out of the starting gate,” Harlan said. “It’s an insult to the entire population of registered voters. There’s plenty of time after it gets certified for the lawyers to take over.”
Harlan claims Redmond is breaking state law RCW 35.21.005, which requires city officials to forward the petition to the county within three business day of receipt so the county auditor can validate the signatures.
The law states, “Within three working days after the filing of a petition, the officer with whom the petition is filed shall transmit the petition to the county auditor for petitions signed by registered voters, or to the county assessor for petitions signed by property owners for determination of sufficiency.”
Harlan said he and his supporters will consider taking legal action against the city.
“That would be the most likely of scenarios,” he said.
Marchione said he did not want to speculate when asked if the city was prepared a potential lawsuit.
Deputy city administrator Jane Christenson said if Harlan and his supporters sue, “they will have to show that the initiative is valid and that the city therefore has a duty to process it. We are advised that would be unlikely given the rest of the rulings in the Bellingham case.”
SIMILAR TO BELLINGHAM
Marchione said the legal advice of City Attorney Jim Haney is based on a ruling in Bellingham earlier this month by the Division 1 Washington Court of Appeals, which covers all of Western Washington between the Canadian border and the King-Pierce county lines, meaning Redmond and Bellinham are in the same court jurisdiction. The three-judge panel ruled Bellingham’s initiative to ban the cameras can stay on the November ballot, but it will not be legally binding.
After the Transportation Safety Coalition conducted a successful petition drive to get the initiative on the ballot, Bellingham’s camera vendor American Traffic Solutions, the same vendor contracted with Redmond, went to court to seek an injunction to block the vote.
The Appeals Court ruled no injunction was necessary, since the initiative was not legally binding and therefore posed no threat of damage to ATS.
“The initiative that was filed in Redmond was almost identical or substationally identical to what was filed in Bellingham and the Appeals Court in Bellingham affirmed only city council has the authority to make the decision on traffic safety cameras,” Marchione said.
Based on the Bellingham ruling, Haney advised the city to hold onto the signatures, according to Marchione.
Marchione said the city has no plans of putting the matter to a vote because of the cost of the special election, which is estimated at $70,000-80,000. In addition, the City Council is currently conducting its own review of the pilot program, with a final decision coming this fall, the mayor said.
“The Council may make a decision by December first that would render this moot,” he said. “There’s a lot of different directions we can go in our deliberations in November. I think we are all very conscious of spending that kind of money for an advisory ballot when we are gathering public input.”
Bellingham is one of several cities that have gone to court over ths issue. In all of the cities, the initiative process has been sparked by Tim Eyman, the state’s initiative guru. When Harlan heard about the city’s camera pilot program, he contacted Eyman for advice. Backed by Eyman, Harlan and supporters collected 6,050 signatures ‚Äî nearly double the amount needed to qualify for an upcoming ballot. The petition was turned into the city Sept. 14. Marchione released the city’s plans for the petition on Wednesday after Tuesday night’s executive session, which includes topics of litigation.
EVALUATING THE PILOT PROGRAM
Redmond has yet to enter the courtroom, concerning the use of traffic-enforcement cameras. City officials knew there would be a public backlash about this issue, so they decided to conduct a pilot program before accepting a long-term contract, which makes the city unique to others grappling with the issue, according to Christenson.
“There’s a lot of back and forth about litigation with ATS and others,” Christenson said. “We’re not in that ballpark because we purposely established a one-year pilot program as the mayor said, which we are going to decide on Dec. 1.”
The city continues its evaluation process at next Tuesday’s public safety committee meeting, when the Redmond Police Department will release the latest traffic-enforcement traffic data. Council members will discuss the matter at its Oct. 11 study session and vote on the issue as early as the Oct. 18 business meeting or as late as Nov. 29, which would require a special session by the council, Marchione said.
“We purposely entered into a one-year pilot program because we knew there would be reaction after the first year and we wanted the opportunity to reassess,” Christenson said.
Even though the signatures will not be sent to the county for validation, Marchione said the opinion of the petition signers will be considered by “all seven council members.”
But for Harlan, one of a handful of people who testified for the initiative at Tuesday’s council meeting, said that is not good enough.
“This is an insult,” he said.
Harlan said the council can end all this camera controversy by just voting “to kill the contract” with ATS.
“Ultimately, that’s the way I think this will end up, but I can’t count on it,” he said.