Saturday, June 18, 2011

The return of the red light camera?

On Friday, US District Judge Lynn Hughes ruled that last November's ballot initiative to repeal Houston's red light camera ordinance was invalid.

The court held that the referendum was held after the time limit to repeal city ordinances had expired.

Mayor Annise Parker said she will consult with her lapdog, city attorney David Feldman, about the city's next move. With budget shortfalls to deal with, it's a pretty good bet that the city is going to do everything it can to get the cameras rolling once again.

“We lost on the issue of the validity of the charter amendment, so what the court is saying, okay city, now decide what you’re going to do with the contract. We need to decide how we’re going to move forward, and what position we’re going to take with the contract in light of the fact he’s declared the charter amendment invalid.’’ -- David Feldman

Judge Hughes' ruling does raise a question or two. First, if the ballot initiative was invalid because the time for repealing the ordinance had passed, why did election officials certify the initiative on the ballot?  If this is an argument the city is raising for the first time, why didn't city officials challenge the placement of the initiative on the ballot last November? Why was a federal court issuing a ruling regarding a city ordinance?

I understand why the matter was in federal court. ATS, the manufacturer of the red light camera system was suing the City of Houston for breach of contract over the city's cancellation of the contract as a result of the referendum. It would appear that there was never an adversarial relationship between the company and the city and that the purpose of the litigation was to void the result of the referendum.

The question still remains however? Why was Judge Hughes making a ruling about a local ballot initiative? The only question before the court was whether the city had breached its contract with ATS - not why the city cancelled the contract. The reason behind the city's decision had nothing to do with whether or not the city breached any contract.

Judge Hughes had no reason to enter any ruling regarding the ballot initiative. By doing so he involved himself in a dispute that is a local, not a federal, matter.

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