Mayor Parker announced on Wednesday that the red light cameras will be turned back on in Houston, resulting in outrage from the thousands of people who voted against the cameras in November. I understand the anger. Since I’m against the red light cameras, I’m angry too. Much of this anger has been directed at Mayor Parker. I can understand why people are mad at her. After all, she did turn the cameras back on after they were voted down; however, I think that she is getting a lot more blame than she deserves. Everything isn’t always political, and sometimes we have to look past differences in ideology and look at the hard facts. Let’s look at the case logically for a minute:
– Mayor Parker was not in a decision-making capacity when the red light cameras were first voted on in 2005. She was the controller and could not vote on the cameras.
– Mayor Parker is in favor of the cameras, but she agrees to put the measure up for a vote in the election because there were enough signatures. (Note: not all council members even agreed with her decision on this).
– Houstonians vote against the cameras, so Mayor Parker shuts them off.
– American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the red light camera company, says that this violates their contract, and the cameras must either come back up, or they need to be paid.
– The city takes this to federal court, and the judge (United States District Judge Lynn Hughes) says that the vote is invalid.
– June 20 – ATS hand delivers a letter to the City of Houston that they have until August 1 to either turn the cameras back on or to pay damages of as much as $20 million.
– Mayor Parker turns the lights back on to comply with the court ruling but promises to file an appeal based on the will of the voters.
Much of the criticism against Mayor Parker lately has been that she is going against the voters by turning the cameras back on. I agree that she is, but does she really have a choice? Put yourself in her position for a second. The court tells you that the votes are invalid. ATS says turn the lights on or pay $20 million that we don’t have. I really think that she had no choice but to turn the lights on until the appeal. The fact that she is in favor of the cameras and is still willing to file the appeal shows that she is actually trying to apply the will of the voters.
Another criticism is that Mayor Parker didn’t want to win the first lawsuit and doesn’t really want to win the appeal. I just don’t agree with this at all. She had to know that losing the first case would either mean political suicide or result in paying millions we don’t have to a company. Losing the appeal will mean the same thing. She is up for re-election right now, and she has to know that she will lose votes maybe even from her own base.
I’m not saying that Mayor Parker has done everything right. Surely there are items in this scenario I would have done differently, but I’m in favor of giving her the benefit of the doubt until we see if she does indeed file the appeal.
So what are the solutions to this problem? Mayor Parker should work on an ordinance now to end red light cameras after the ATS contract is done (unless something changes in the appeal). This will show that she is actually concerned with the will of the voters. The other thing she should do (as I mentioned in the blog before) is to make sure that any future city contract has a clause that says the contract can be terminated if there are changes to the Charter. It wouldn’t help in this situation, but it will be prudent for future problems like this.