In November, voters in St. Charles County, MO approved a charter amendment that prohibits municipalities within the county from using red light cameras to enforce traffic laws. According to KMOV-TV St. Louis, 73% of voters gave support for the ban, overwhelmingly sending a message that citizens in the county do not approve of cities using the cameras, which are seen as a revenue generating tool. However, the cities of St. Peters, Lake St. Louis, and O’Fallon are suing in an effort to reverse the ban, claiming that the county government has no authority over municipalities’ traffic rules.
KMOV-TV St. Louis cited a statement by the City of St. Peters on the issue, which said, “No authority exists for St. Charles County to lay claim to the regulation of traffic on city streets.” Proponents of red light cameras claim that the devices promote safe driving and that the ballot measure banning them was titled in a manner that misled voters. The charter amendment was titled “Proposition Red Light Camera.”
John Young, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in this case, says that the suit could take months or even years to work its way through the courts. Meanwhile, red light cameras in the county remain in place pending the forthcoming ruling, though they have been kept in a powered-off state since September.
St. Charles County Councilman Joe Brazil, who opposes the use of red light cameras, commented on the politics of the lawsuit, “Seventy-three percent of the voters pass a ban on red light cameras so what these cities are doing are suing 73 percent of the voters in St. Charles County, within their own cities. They’re suing their own residents.” St. Louis Today notes that O’Fallon Councilman Jim Pepper and Dardenne Prairie Mayor Pam Fogarty personally signed on to the lawsuit against the charter amendment banning red light cameras, which bears political risk given the fact that a strong majority of St. Charles County voters came out to the polls in support of the ban. The plaintiffs claim that they have standing to go forward with the lawsuit, which was filed in St. Charles County Circuit Court, because the cities involved would lose revenue if the ban were to be enforced.
Roger Dalsky, a local supporter of the ban on red light cameras who was interviewed by KMOV-TV St. Louis, said, “The federal government has jurisdictions over the states, states have jurisdictions over the counties, the counties have jurisdictions over their municipalities, so it’s fairly clear that they have the right to impose laws on those municipalities, especially if those laws are voted into law by the voters.”
County Councilman Joe Brazil parroted Dalsky’s sentiment, saying in comments to St. Louis Today, “The people have the right to change the constitution of the county… That’s what voters do.” Brazil also pointed out the fact that some of the plaintiffs on the case have themselves promoted county-wide referendums on other issues that would have affected municipal policies, acts which he characterized as hypocritical.
The Missouri Supreme Court is currently considering three separate red light camera cases, which had their first hearings on December 2. In one case, the Missouri Supreme Court is reviewing a decision by St. Louis Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer in which he invalidated two fines which were issued via red light cameras to two women whose cars were being driven by someone else at the time that the tickets were issued. The Missouri Supreme Court is also weighing the broader issue of whether municipalities can use red light cameras without the state legislature granting specific authority to do so.
As TheNewspaper.com points out, St. Peters, MO once hosted the nation’s first ever corruption trial over red light cameras, as former St. Peters Mayor Shawn Brown was convicted of taking a bribe from the company Redflex Traffic Systems in exchange for his support for a measure installing the company’s cameras city-wide. According to St. Louis Public Radio, Brown was sentenced in 2007 to an 18-month stint in federal prison over the scandal.