Monthly Archives: April 2014

Democracy is not a Spectator Sport

*Update – received a reply from Jean Schaake. Sounded like a negative view of the cameras but again, no commitment to making changes and a simple acceptance that the contract has already extended. We need someone willing to take action NOW not five years from now.

Information on formal petitions (initiatives and referendums) was finally received and I’m not sure if this will be a route that is open to us. I may work on an informal petition simply to show the city that residents want action.

I’ve attended candidate debates and submitted questions, I’ve had a running dialogue with the Mayor and sent press releases and letters to the editor to our Denton Record Chronicle – all of these avenues have yielded little results and little dialogue. DRC seems intent on only publishing quotes from the city about the program.

Early voting for our municipal elections starts TODAY. Recently I sent questions to each candidate regarding our Red Light Camera fight and I’ve actually gotten some responses.

Of the responses, Glen Farris said he was “wary” of the program and felt relying on citations as a revenue source was problematic. Greg Johnson believed they did in fact improve safety so I provided a bit of education on the matter using our own city’s statistics. I spoke at length on the issue with Chris Watts and he sounded open to the idea of revisiting the camera issue as well and requested more information but didn’t strongly oppose them. I’ll report more responses as I receive them.

What I want YOU to do is ask the same questions of the candidates. Let them know this issue extends beyond one concerned citizen. Let them know you feel the red light camera program has little to do with safety, has proven to increase accidents and is simply a revenue generator for the city and a corrupt foreign corporation.

People have given up. They don’t vote. They let Fox and MSNBC tell them who to vote for and check a color. Be active. Start on the local level and maybe we’ll be able to reclaim our country from the corporate oligarchy that rules it.

District 2
John Ryan
Website
Facebook

Glen Farris Squibb
Website
Facebook
Twitter

Place 5
Dalton Gregory
Website
Facebook
Twitter

Hatice I. Salih
Twitter

Place 6
M. Brendan Carroll
(Has abandoned his bid)
Website
Facebook
Twitter

Greg Johnson
Website
Facebook

Mayor
Donna Woodfork
Twitter

Chris Watts
Website
Facebook

Jean Schaake
Website
Facebook
Twitter

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Why Fight Safety?

Many people have heard the industry arguments that these cameras are all about safety. Lobbyists and industry “experts” have been selling that line for years.

Studies cited by camera companies and greedy city officials all say these cameras reduce accidents. But why has Denton seen an increase at the two intersections which we have pre-camera and post camera data for. At 380 and Mayhill, accidents have nearly doubled. At 377 and I35, they’ve gone up by around 50%.

Turns out, many of those studies are flawed and inadequate.

A 2004 study by the Urban Transit Institute concluded that there was, if anything, an increase in accidents at intersections with these cameras. This study provided a more rigorous look at a larger data set and included things such as weather and traffic volume.

The pro-camera studies are surface investigations at best, and generally use very small datasets without rigorous evaluation of that data. External factors are generally ignored and extremely basic methodology is employed. They are written to sell cameras, not provide useful, scientific information.

But now that the camera companies have gotten their way and peddled their products across the nation, the truth is unavoidable. These devices are dangerous.

In Los Angeles, it was shown that accidents at 20 of the 32 intersections with cameras had increased. In some cases, accidents had tripled. Corpus Christi showed an increase in accidents at their Red Light Camera intersection of 14% and a 28% in injury crashes. Fort Collins, Colorado was showing dramatic increases as well as a study in Washington, D.C., performed by independent traffic engineers which showed accident rates more than doubling in some cases.

When you’re approaching a light at forty or fifty miles an hour, the last thing you need to do is second guess your decisions in that seconds-long window before and after a light turns yellow. At night, the last thing you need is a blinding flash in your rear window and rear view mirror.

All of this is old news. Your city representatives KNOW this. Our own data supports this. In fact, the new cameras aren’t placed with any sort of “safety” in mind. The camera at 288 and Spencer, according to the Engineering Report performed prior to the installation, showed ZERO red light running accidents in the 18 months prior.

How are they proposing to make that intersection “safer”?

They aren’t. It’s a busy intersection and a cash cow for people making not-quite-textbook right hand turns. That’s the only reason the camera was placed there.

Given the data, our own experience, who do YOU think should be responsible for the likely increase in accidents we’ll see over the next year?

Hold our city officials accountable.

History of Corruption in Texas

Still waiting on clarification from the city on their rules for filing a petition. Until then, how about a bit of clarity on this issue?

The red light camera scam in Texas has a long and sordid history. Texas legislators actually fought for years to keep these types of laws off the books. In 2003, the house voted 103 to 34 against letting red light cameras into the state. Then Representative Harper Brown and her friends at Paradigm Traffic Systems arrived in a shiny new SUV.

Using an amendment supplied by the camera companies, she quietly inserted it into an unrelated transportation bill and in the typical chaos that is our government, it was not discovered until after the legislative session.

House leadership was presumably furious and they tried several times, unsuccessfully, to remove the law and alter, to sunset the use of red light cameras in the state altogether. Their challenges always seemed to die in the senate.

In 2010, the Texas Values in Action Coalition filed a complaint which indicated that both Harper’s 2004 Chevy Tahoe and a 2010 Mercedes SUV were provided by Durable Enterprises Equipment which sold red light camera equipment through Paradigm Traffic Systems. She received a slap on the wrist from the ethics committee and the law remained on the books.

Remember how these efforts kept dying in the Senate?

With the way paved for for-profit surveillance of Texas residents, Senator John Carona sealed the deal in 2007 by adding a law to divert camera funds to a State Trauma fund, thus creating a vested interest for the state to support the program. So far, the $46 million dollars has been used not for trauma centers but for questionable accounting tricks. Carona then went on to thwart further efforts to ban the cameras in 2009. It has been revealed that Senator Carona accepted significant campaign donations from a photo ticketing collection firm over the years.

These laws aren’t about safety. They are paving a way for a private, for-profit corporation to reach in your pocket and share the ill-gotten gains with corrupt politicians.

Please join me in reclaiming our rights. Follow our blog. Join the fight.

Sources:

http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2013-07-19/red-light-firm-red-in-the-face/

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/transportation/20100705-Red-light-camera-companies-a-lobbying-9768.ece

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/transportation/20100617-Questions-raised-about-Rep-Linda-4114.ece

http://watchdogwire.com/texas/2014/03/25/scandal-ridden-red-light-cameras-offer-potential-corruption/

http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/43/4353.asp

Next Step?

While several Council Members requested “staff to comment on my speech” this very likely amounts to politics as usual. They are on track to steal well over a million dollars from our local community this year, so it’s extremely doubtful they will choose to do the right thing.

Lobbyists have bought and sold this country ten times over. It may seem hopeless, and I know many people have simply accepted this as a reality, but if we mobilize against them, we will be unstoppable.

The next step is to start a petition. I’m exploring the process right now. According to city ordinances we need five “electors” to form the committee of petitioners. I have some ideas, but I want to hear from YOU.

An elector would need to be able to devote time to fighting to restore our rights. Collecting signatures from not only their own social circles but at public events.

The folks over at http://www.frackfreedenton.com have gone the extra mile and founded a non-profit organization to raise funds for their cause.

I’m looking for any local Denton residents to come join the fight. One voice at a council meeting won’t be enough, I need ALL of you. We need to reclaim our democracy from lobbyists and corporate interests. Who’s ready to fight?

Please comment or contact me by email at russ.linton at gmail.com.

Contacted Mayor and Council Members

At the very end of last night’s Council Meeting, Council Member Engelbrecht, followed by Mayor Burroughs and Council Member Roden all motioned to have staff respond to my speech. I sent an email to the Mayor and Council Members earlier today providing them with my sources, all publicly available or through Freedom of Information Act requests, and asked that any response from “staff” be made available to myself and the public. At the very least, I should be able to get a hold of it later via a FOIA request.

Please don’t forget to sign up with your email and follow the blog! I will keep all of this information private and only use it to inform you of events related to dismantling Denton’s Red Light Camera program.

Thanks!

First Volley

I filed a citizens report last night and stood before the Mayor and Council Members to put them on notice that their money-making scam needed to stop. As a result, several members requested a copy, but since this was a citizens report, due to meeting regulations, they were not allowed to discuss or open the floor to public discussion on the matter.

Will they act? Doubtful. On such short notice, I was only able to gather a handful of concerned citizens. They will only act when they see that the greater community is indeed against these for-profit surveillance companies levying “fines” and issuing “citations” without regard for our Constitutional rights.

Video can be found here.

The text of my speech follows:

Mayor, Council Members, Citizens,

I received this in the mail yesterday. Our Annual Citizen Update. According to our demographics, we had a population of 117,000 in 2013. That same year, we handed out over 16 THOUSAND red light camera tickets with NINE cameras.

That seem odd to you?

At first, this was sold as a safety enhancer. Even the city contract, right here in my hand, says “it is a mutual objective of both Redflex and the Customer to reduce the incidence of vehicle collisions…”

Yet, of the two cameras that we have reliable pre-installation data for, accidents at one intersection have doubled according to the TxDoT website. We went from 9 a year prior to the camera install at Fort Worth Drive and I35 to 17 last year. Mayhill and 380 went from 7 accidents to 11.

Since that explanation didn’t pan out, now we’re being sold that this program is about reducing violations or changing driver behavior.

But at a meeting of the Traffic Safety Commission, Captain Scott Fletcher had this to say:

“Over the years, because of the nature of this city, violations do not decrease as they might in other communities. New students arrive and those violations continue.”

As if our students didn’t have enough debt to worry about.

Well, if the red light cameras aren’t about safety or the violations, what are they about? Do we really have to ask?

Last February our camera vendor, Redflex, fired and sued their VP of Sales, Aaron Rosenberg for violating company policy. They alleged he had used bribery and fraud to secure his contracts over his eleven years with the company.

Aaron Rosenberg countersued. He said under the table deals were company policy. Since then, he went on to admit that “policy” extended to thirteen states, Texas included. He’s now co-operating in a federal investigation.

Not only that, his signature is right here in our contract.

Despite this highly public scandal, YOU, the city, decided to extend the contract and even expand the camera program.

A program which violates our rights in the name of profit.

The red light camera program is made possible by city ordinance that circumvents constitutional rights. 5th, 6th and 14th amendment rights are cast aside to discourage citizens from seeking justice. Presumption of your guilt is written into the law. Your true accuser can elect not to face you and instead testify via affidavit.

But to kick off the trampling of our rights, this for profit company gets to play cop.

A Redflex technician makes the first determination whether what is recorded is a violation. Next, another technician pulls your private vehicle registration information and finally, a manager approves what to forward to the police. Only then do our police review this evidence and apply their electronic signature.

That chain of custody alone for the so-called evidence should make it inadmissible.

If the accused does opt to fight, they face the judgment of a Redflex trained “Administration Officer” before being allowed to appeal and seek justice in front of an actual judge.

This foreign, for-profit, corporation with a penchant for scandal is in control of every step of this perversion of justice.

Across the country, these programs are being dismantled. By voters, by embattled legislators and by local politicians facing the ire of their constituents on the eve of elections.

I’m here today to say enough is enough. Stop hiding the purpose of this program. Stop trampling our rights as U.S. citizens and citizens of the Republic of Texas. End your business relationship with the corrupt, overseas company named Redflex and repeal all city ordinances which support such an unjust and invasive program.

I would like everyone here that wants to see their rights restored, and the greedy hands of lobbyists and foreign corporations out of our pockets, to please stand.

 

Speech at City Hall TONIGHT

Come out to city hall located at 215 E. McKinney Street tonight to support a call to action and demand our city officials end their association with the corrupt, overseas corporation, Redflex and repeal city ordinances that prop up red light cameras.

These cameras only operate by circumventing your constitutional rights using laws bought by camera lobbyists from crooked politicians. They will remain in place and even expand if you chose to simply sit back and watch.

This is a crucial time in our nation’s history. Our country is for sale to the highest bidder. Our rights a commodity. This Red Light Camera law is but one example of the erosion of freedom across the US and in our own backyard.

Not convinced? Come to the meeting. Hear me out. I bet I’ll change your mind.