Judge rules city not required turn in traffic camera petition
October 13, 2011 · Updated 8:15 AM
Redmond's traffic-enforcement camera petition effort hit a huge road block after a court ruling Tuesday afternoon in Seattle.
A King County Superior Court Judge tossed out a lawsuit by state initiative advocate Tim Eyman and ruled that the City of Redmond does not have to turn in a petition to the county that would possibly put the controversial issue of traffic-enforcement cameras on an upcoming ballot.
Eyman and other anti-camera proponents were seeking the judge to order the city to turn in the petition to the county auditor after the city failed to comply, under advisement from its attorney, Jim Haney.
Union Hill resident Scott Harlan led the petition effort, gathering more than 6,000 signatures, which were turned into the city clerk Michelle McGehee last month.
While Judge Laura C. Inveen said McGehee does have a "clear duty to transmit the petition to the county auditor" within three days of receiving the petition according to state law, she concluded that the issue concerning traffic-enforcement camera falls under the power of the city legislature rather than the initiative process.
"At this point to require the city clerk to transmit the petition would be a useless act," Inveen said in her ruling.
Visibly upset, Eyman said outside the courtroom that the ruling threatens the citzens' right to petition and was the "most arrogant decision I have ever heard."
"People of Redmond should be furious ..." he said. "It's an appalling ruling. I'm disgusted by it and I think the City of Redmond kicked a hornet's nest."
Inside the courtroom, Haney argued that the city did not turn in the petition because of legal precedent of a recent ruling in Bellingham by the Division 1 Court of Appeals that ruled that the issue of traffic-enforcement cameras did not fall under the power of initiative.
Daniel Quick, Eyman's attorney, argued that the city clerk did not perform her duty by turning in the petition, citing RCW 35.21.005, which states that a city clerk who receives a petition has three business days to file it with the county auditor.
Judge Inveen said ultimately the Bellingham case tipped the scales in favor of the city.
"It couldn't have said it clearer when it tells that an initiative almost identical to the proposed Redmond initiative exceeds the lawful scope of local initiative power and is not a valid ballot measure. A proposed initiative must be within the authority of the jurisdiction passing the measure. This initiative is not. By state statute, the authority for approving traffic cameras is with the Redmond City Council and mayor. This initiative attempts to achieve something that is not within its power, so it is invalid."
Quick, a Seattle attorney, said he will look into appealing Inveen's decision, which he thinks is a bit premature as a motion has been filed to the state Supreme Court to reverse last month's ruling by the Court of Appeals.
Mayor John Marchione released a statement following the ruling, saying today's court ruling "is a strong affirmation of the City of Redmond’s action to fulfill its responsibilities and not abdicate its role to ‘government-by-initiative’. The city’s actions are guided by law that the decision to use traffic-camera enforcement is reserved for the City Council only. While repeated court rulings on Eyman initiatives have made this clear, some continue to create a false expectation. Instead of perpetuating this myth, the City Council and I chose to state the truth. This decision is reserved for the City Council and not subject to the initiative process.”
The mayor's statement also pointed out the court ruling saved the city thousands of dollars as an advisory vote would cost the city $70,000-80,000.
Meanwhile, the City Council will begin its evaluation of the pilot program at tonight's study session. Council members must decide by Dec. 1 to extend the contract with the camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions.
City Council president Richard Cole, who attended Tuesday's court proceedings, said a final vote on the program will be made at the Nov. 1 business meeting.