By Scott North
We’ve been digging for information about traffic enforcement cameras. In Washington, they are mostly used to automatically issue tickets to people accused of roll ing through red lights or speeding in school zones. The cameras can be found in Seattle and Tacoma. Closer to home, Snohomish County government, along with the cities of Everett and Mukilteo, have at least explored them as an option. Monroe has some cameras up but hasn’t issued citations. So far, only the city of Lynnwood has taken the plunge.
To their credit, Lynnwood officials have been open and helpful in answering questions. They shared some eye-opening stats with reporter Rikki King. As she wrote this week, Lynnwood has raked in $4.7 million in revenue from the traffic cameras since January 2010. At times the cameras have brought in up to a half a million dollars a month. They are the biggest reason 11 percent of Lynnwood’s revenue now comes from fines and forfeitures.
Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions, Inc. is paid to operate the cameras and help manage the tickets. The company is a national leader in such partnerships. It inked a similar deal with Mukilteo last year but that was derailed by voters. People in Mukilteo overwhelmingly backed an initiative to restrict cameras and limit fines. Yes, Mukilteo initiative activist Tim Eyman was all over this one.People organized as Mukilteo Citizens for Simple Government went to court to block the vote. They failed. The legal wrangling continues. The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear argument May 24 about constitutional questions raised by voters exerting so much control over traffic enforcement strategies — and lucrative contracts.
There was speculation American Traffic Solutions was behind the campaign to thwart the Mukilteo initiative. Turns out they were. About a month before the election, the state’s Public Disclosure Commission received paperwork showing the company spent $23,500 bankrolling the anti-initiative campaign. Documents (see attached) show the company was behind the web site www.safetycamerassavelives.org, plus mass mailings and phone research.
We asked American Traffic Solutions some specific questions. Why did it fund the campaign against the Mukilteo initiative? Is it now paying to challenge the measure in court?
“ATS is proudly standing with the majority of Washingtonians who support the use of red light safety cameras,” Kate Coulson, the company’s manager of communications and outreach, said in an email.
“We’re not a party to the lawsuit and can’t speak on behalf of the citizens group,” she continued. “However, we do agree with the citizens group that there are important issues that need to be resolved particularly regarding the role of initiatives that directly impact public safety and the ability of law enforcement to decide which tools are most effective at keeping our streets and roads safe.”
Did she answer either question? We also wrote the lawyer handling the initiative challenge. Who is paying for her?
The answer so far: cricket sounds.