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Jim Guidry Commentaries
Harris County
Houston City Council
News Release
Wednesday, July 06, 2011

City of Houston Seeks Permission to Appeal Red Light Camera Decision

Mayor Annise Parker today announced that the City will attempt to appeal a recent court ruling invalidating last fall’s vote on red-light cameras.  In the meantime, the red-light cameras will be turned back on today.  Ticket issuance will resume after a short period of equipment testing.

“This is a difficult decision,” said Mayor Parker.  “I have a responsibility to represent the interests of the voters, but I also have a responsibility to abide by the judge’s ruling. The City just went through a very painful budget process in which nearly 750 employees were laid off and park, library and health services were cut back.  We simply don’t have the millions they claim we would owe for violating the court decision and our contractual obligation to American Traffic Solutions (ATS).  Therefore, I have decided the fiscally-prudent path to take is to turn the cameras back on while also seeking a second chance for the voters in the courts.”

Mayor Parker emphasized the safety measures provided by the red-light camera program.  ATS and the City are initiating a study to make sure the cameras are placed at the city’s most dangerous intersections.  As a result of this review, some cameras may be moved from their current locations to intersections with higher accident rates upon completion of this review.

In June, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes ruled last November’s red-light camera referendum violated the City Charter and should not have been placed on the ballot.  The ruling was based on a charter provision that mandates any challenge of a city ordinance by referendum must occur within 30 days of passage of the ordinance.  City Council adopted an ordinance initiating the use of red-light cameras in 2004.  Opponents did not mount their ballot challenge until 2010. 

The district court decision is an interlocutory ruling.  As such, the City must first ask Judge Hughes for permission to appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Permission is also required from the appellate court.

“It is not the prerogative of City Council to decide which laws it wants to follow,” Parker said.  “We had no choice in putting the referendum on the ballot last fall.  However, we do have the ability to settle this question for future City Councils and the public.”



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