Longview council votes to end red-light camera program

The red light camera stands above Loop 281 at Fourth Street Monday, March, 23, 2015, in Longview. (Kevin Green/News-Journal Photo)

With no discussion and to grateful applause, the City Council on Monday unanimously voted to shut down red light cameras in Longview.

With the decision against renewing the city's deal with the Phoenix-based company that has provided technology and equipment for the system since 2007, the photo enforcement program will end when the current contract lapses May 27.

The move came after the urging of many Longview residents opposed to the system and against the recommendation of the Longview Police Department. It was one of the first votes by four members who had been sworn in to their new duties just minutes earlier.

"I did the math. The handout that the chief gave, the two statistics were comparing apples and oranges," District 1 Councilman Ed Moore said after the meeting. "If you took that same snapshot at our 10 intersections, the wrecks went up. The purpose for which they were installed is not being met."

Twice before the May 9 election, the council postponed a decision on renewing the contract. On March 26, members agreed they needed more information from the police department about the system's impact on traffic safety. On April 23, outgoing Mayor Jay Dean advised the council to wait on renewing a 10-year contract as the Texas Legislature decided whether to ban the cameras statewide.

Mayor Andy Mack, who placed the item on the agenda for Monday's meeting, congratulated the council for its decision.

"You did your homework. You came here prepared, and you voted on a decision that was past due being voted on, and I applaud you for standing up and doing the right thing," he said.

Mack, Moore, District 2 Councilwoman Nona Snoddy and District 5 Councilman David Wright joined the seven-person council Thursday after winning their elections.

In the Legislature, Senate Bill 714 by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, was passed by the Senate 23-7 and referred to the Transportation Committee of the House of Representatives. The measure would ban the use of the cameras statewide.

At previous meetings, many residents spoke against the program. Only one speaker, Jeremiah Hunter, argued against the cameras Monday.

"I remain steadfastly against it," he said. "The entire council has an opportunity to show directly, coming with your first meeting, what kind of council you are going to be. Are you for the people or are you against the people who just elected you? If you are for the people who just elected you, vote no, because if you vote yes, that is going to put a really bad taste in a lot of peoples' mouths with your very first meeting."

The city maintained 12 red light cameras at 10 intersections. For each camera, the city paid Redflex Traffic Systems about $5,000 per month. The ongoing cost, with tens of thousands of dollars leaving the city and state monthly, was among the arguments residents used against the system.

The contract was initially struck in 2006 and renewed by members of the council in 2009.

It took the city until March 2013 to break even on the cost of the system, and — since that time — it has seen revenue of about $820,000. Of that, $78,000 has been spent on traffic safety enhancements and $330,000 has been paid to the state.

The Longview Police Department, which recommended the renewal, supported the program because it said it had corresponded with a decrease of accidents across the city and helped protect officers who otherwise would have to patrol busy intersections for red light violations. In the end, it appeared the data supplied by the department didn't convince council members the cameras had improved traffic safety.

City spokesman Shawn Hara said tickets may still be received after the May 27 date if they were issued prior to the end of the contract.

Also Monday, the council heard from about seven residents who came to ask the council to maintain operation of the Paula Martin Jones Recreation Center.

Last month the council agreed to have City Manager David Willard negotiate with Paula Martin Jones Charities for a transfer of ownership, but any final deal will be considered by the City Council.

The council also approved hiring Scott Caron as the new director of the Parks and Recreation department.

Caron, 41, is the parks and recreation director for the city of Rolla, Missouri, and has a bachelor's degree in parks and recreation from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

He was selected from about 50 applicants for the post and was one of five candidates interviewed in person April 24.

The City Council approved a proposal Dec. 11 to separate the department from the Community Services Department.

Caron and his wife, Jennifer, have twin 14-year-old boys, Alex and Tyler, and a 10-year-old daughter, Abby.

Because of the city charter, hiring for director-level positions is to be recommended by the city manager and considered for approval by the council.