Monroe says it may pull traffic cameras because of repeated errors on citations

MONROE — The city of Monroe may move to terminate its contract for traffic-enforcement cameras, officials confirmed Friday.

City Council members passed a motion this week authorizing the mayor to send a warning letter to Redflex Traffic Systems of Arizona.

The letter is being reviewed and is expected to be sent early next week, Mayor Robert Zimmerman said Friday. The letter warns that the city plans to terminate the contract if the level of service from Redflex does not improve.

The decision was based on the company’s failure to meet performance standards, Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said. The company repeatedly sent out violation notices that had typos, omitted words and contained other errors.

Because of the errors, police were forced to void many of the violations and refund some of the fines collected, Willis said.

The cameras were working correctly, and plenty of drivers were being cited for violations, but the tickets the company sent out did not meet Monroe police standards.

When the cameras went live in June, none of the violations could be prosecuted because of the printing errors, Willis said. People instead were sent notifications in the mail that their tickets had been voided.

Monroe contracts for cameras to help crack down on red-light runners and people who speed in school zones.

The school-zone speed cameras were turned back on in September, but the tickets that went out had a new crop of errors, Willis said. The city again voided all of the tickets and restarted the printing process with Redflex. Once again, new errors prevented prosecution.

Most of the voided tickets were for school-zone speeding.

“We worked and worked and worked to try to get these corrected,” Willis said. “They kept coming back, and there’s something else that’s wrong with the ticket. It’s not fair.”

Monroe signed a contract with Redflex in 2007, but the cameras didn’t kick on until early this summer.

That sparked a political firestorm that brought initiative activist Tim Eyman to town.

The debates between the anti-camera advocates and city leaders have turned nasty at times over the past few months.

Eyman and his lieutenants spearheaded multiple initiatives to put the city’s use of traffic-enforcement cameras on the ballot.

The city contended that one of the initiatives was invalid and sued to keep the measure off the ballot. The legality of that decision is currently under review by Snohomish County Superior Court judge George Bowden.

The judge in September asked to hear more legal argument before making a decision.

Meanwhile, the City Council put another traffic-camera measure on the ballot. Proposition No. 3 seeks nonbinding advice from voters on whether the city should continue using the cameras after the current contract expires in 2013.

There was a brouhaha this summer over whether or not the city could get out of the contract without paying millions. The so-called “escape clause” says the contract will be terminated if new laws or new court rulings make it illegal. The contract also says it may be terminated if either side breaches any of its provisions.

It wasn’t immediately clear what, if any, financial impact would result if the city declared Redflex in violation of the contract at this time and under these circumstances.

Next week’s warning letter should have no bearing on the election, Zimmerman said.

Proposition No. 3 reflects the city’s desire for the community to weigh in on the future of the program, he said.

“But in the meantime, we’re still doing everything we can to ensure that the contract is being fulfilled to the expectations,” he said. “We’re not going to continue a contract that isn’t working.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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