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Monroe to sue backers of traffic-camera initiative

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By Scott North and Alejandro Dominguez
Herald Writers
@snorthnews
Published:
MONROE — Just days after talking about staging an advisory vote on traffic-enforcement cameras, city officials are poised to file a lawsuit against the people who sponsored an initiative that would enact new rules for the cameras.
The city of Monroe on Friday morning released paperwork from a civil case they intend to file in Snohomish County Superior Court. That could happen today.
The lawsuit asks a judge to find that Monroe Initiative No. 1 “in its entirety is invalid because it is beyond the scope of local initiative power, and therefore null and void.”
The lawsuit names as defendants the anti-camera groups who gathered signatures from Monroe voters: Washington Campaign for Liberty; Seeds of Liberty; Bancams.com and VotersWantMoreChoices.com.
The latter group is run by Mukilteo initiative activist Tim Eyman. “It is really an extraordinarily arrogant thing to do to sue your own citizens for exercising their constitutional right to initiative,” he said. “It is a total waste of city revenue, (which) they claim they don't have a lot of, but they seem to have plenty to hire a lawyer.”
Monroe officials have said that they are paying attention to legal arguments raised against similar initiatives. In Wenatchee, for example, a judge ruled a similar initiative invalid, and blocked backers from even collecting signatures.
Eyman noted that Monroe had options. A Snohomish County judge last year ruled a similar initiative in Mukilteo should go before voters. In Bellingham, city leaders this week decided that an initiative with language mirroring Monroe's must go before voters.
Mukilteo voters weighed in 71 percent against the enforcement cameras. The state Supreme Court recently heard argument on whether that initiative was legal.
Even though it is now suing to stop the camera initiative , the Monroe City Council on Tuesday staged a lengthy discussion on options for allowing voters there to have some voice on the future of traffic enforcement cameras, perhaps as early as the November general election.
The council is scheduled to continue discussion next week.
There are differences between what the council is considering and what Monroe Initiative No. 1 would accomplish, councilman Tony Balk said.
The initiative is stricter, and likely would force cancellation of the enforcement-camera contract that Monroe already has with Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems, Balk said.
He worries that could open the door to more litigation.
Depending on how the court rules on the legality of Monroe Initiative No. 1, it is possible that initiative and some sort of city-sponsored advisory vote could wind up together on the November ballot, councilman Tom Williams said.
“If the judge says it's legal, I'll happily put in the ballot,” Williams said of Initiative No. 1.
Eyman said it is unclear how many resources initiative backers will expend defending it in court. Lawsuits are costly and the city has more resources, he said.
Meanwhile, he and others already are putting their energies into support for proposed Monroe Initiative No. 2, which would require advisory votes on enforcement cameras in the city every municipal election cycle for as long as the city has camera contracts. Eyman called that initiative an “advisory vote on steroids.”
Monroe now has cameras up at three spots -- two school zones and the intersection of North Kelsey Street and U.S. 2. The school-zone cameras were scheduled to be turned off once school got out earlier this summer.
Monroe Initiative No. 1 seeks to remove enforcement cameras that already have been installed, to reduce fines levied from camera-generated tickets and to require voter approval before any more enforcement cameras can be installed.
Alejandro Dominguez, 425-339-3422, adominguez@heraldnet.com
Story tags » MonroeTraffic

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