Every council member knows citizen activists are dangerous when they can turn out numbers repeatedly at council meetings. If they have a Facebook page, a clever acronym and fancy T-shirts they are even more formidable. C.A.P.E. has all four.

For the second straight month, Citizens Against Photo Enforcement members spoke at the council’s monthly “open mic” session Thursday night. They attacked  the city’s decision to hire a company to install the cameras and monitor videotapes of alleged violations these cameras record.

CAPE members don’t think the cameras are accurate and note that they photograph cars, not the people in them. But their main point is that tickets issued by civilian employees of a private company, rather than law enforcement officers, are not valid.

They also object to city money going out of state to Automated Traffic Solutions (ATS), the Tempe, Ariz., company that manages the cameras here.

Council opted not to buy and operate the cameras

Because the technology is changing so fast the council decided originally not to buy the equipment outright but to hire a company to provide the cameras and maintain them

The contract dates from March 11 of 2011 and provides for a maximum run of five years.  It has a series of renewal options that allow the deal to run as late as March 11th of this year. Last August, the council voted to extend the contract for the full five-year run.

Legislature likely to clarify the issue

Jeff Rainwater, who ran for city council two years ago, said if the council does take action to renew the deal with ATS, it should opt for a short-term contract, as the legislature is likely to act on the question this year or next. He said he hoped this city would not follow the lead of some other communities that have agreed to long term deals in bad faith.

Lane: "economic carpetbagging"
Lane: “economic carpetbagging”

Steve Lane, who lives on Scenic Drive, said cities all over the county are being told by the courts that tickets being  issued on traffic camera evidence are illegal. He said a ticket issued as result of cameras is valid only if the footage has been reviewed by a law enforcement official.

Tennessee’s attorney general has ruled that the statute does not provide for a private company to monitor and control a traffic light camera or to issue a citation.

Keep the money here

Lane added that he doesn’t think the cameras work, but he would have less of a problem with them if the city bought the cameras and operated them itself.

“It feels like we are being taxed by Arizona,” he said. “It’s economic carpetbagging.”

Currently, the company is operating traffic cameras at six lights in the city. A city law enforcement officer reviews those videos which the company sends back to the city for possible  citations.

Smotherman agrees we could use the money here

Councilman Eddie Smotherman, who has opposed the cameras, said money from the fines should  be coming back to the city so it can use the revenue to fund driver education programs.

Mayor weighs in on money leaking out of state

"Not very smart of you to tick off the mayor."
“Not very smart of you to tick off the mayor.”

Mayor Shane McFarland argued that the money leaving the state is a false issue. He noted that he would like to award contracts to local people, but state law forces the city to hire contractors submitting the lowest bid. For example, the last fire truck the city bought came from a Wisconsin company.

Of course, the city has no choice but to accept the low bid on things like fire trucks. It could keep the money from red-light camera citations, however, by buying and operating the cameras itself.

The six intersections with red-light cameras are: (1) Broad and Church streets near City Hall, (2) Old Fort Parkway and Thompson Lane, (3) Broad and Northfield Boulevard, (4) Northfield and Memorial Boulevard, (5) Mercury Boulevard and Middle Tennessee Boulevard, and (6) Middle Tennessee and Church.