Judge asks to hear more, suggests Monroe might have erred in traffic camera case

  • By Scott North Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, September 21, 2011 1:57pm
  • Local News

EVERETT — A Snohomish County judge signaled Wednesday that the city of Monroe may have erred when it rejected outright an initiative that would have forced a vote on the future of traffic-enforcement cameras there.

An a

ttorney for Monroe on Wednesday asked Superior Court Judge George Bowden to declare Initiative No. 1 legally flawed.

Instead, the judge said he wants to hear more legal argument before making his decision.

It’s clear, Bowden said, that a state Court of Appeals ruling earlier this month in a similar camera-initiative controversy in Bellingham makes portions of the Monroe initiative invalid. Those include key provisions that would have dictated how the city uses the cameras and also placed limits on the fines collected from camera-generated tickets.

Still, Bowden said, he’s not certain a legal reason existed for Monroe’s city council to reject a third prong on the initiative. It mandated regular advisory votes on Monroe’s use of enforcement cameras to target people who roll through red lights or speed in school zones.

Zach Lell, the city’s attorney, argued Wednesday that chaos would result if the public could use initiatives to force advisory votes on any controversy — including matters that state lawmakers, or the courts, have decided aren’t subject to ballot review.

But attorney Richard Stephens, representing initiative backers, countered that even if it is true that the city council alone can decide whether to have red-light tickets in Monroe, that is different than granting council members authority to decide what issues people may vote upon.

“What is the harm here? What is the city’s harm in allowing people to vote?” he asked.

Indeed, Bowden noted, the city council put an advisory vote on the November ballot. Unlike the one proposed by initiative backers, however, it asks voters’ advice on whether to continue after September 2013 to contract for camera services with Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems. That’s when the contract expires.

The judge said he hopes to make a ruling on Monroe Initiative No. 1 sometime in October. That will be too late for a vote this year.

The camera initiative was presented to the city council in Monroe for action after the county auditor determined that backers had gathered sufficient signatures to qualify it for the ballot. Instead, supporters wound up being named as defendants in the lawsuit the city brought to have the measure declared legally invalid.

Ty Balascio, a founder of the Seeds of Liberty group that spearheaded the measure, said he believes a compelling case was made that the city council erred in simply attacking the measure.

Tim Eyman assisted in gathering signatures for the Monroe initiative. He forced a 2010 vote in his hometown Mukilteo, effectively nixing a enforcement-camera program there before it started.

He was optimistic after Wednesday’s hearing.

“I’m thrilled with the outcome because it does look like voters will get the chance to vote,” he said.

Also at the hearing Wednesday was Stephen Pidgeon, an Everett attorney who recently filed an appeal in support of anti-camera activists in Bellingham.

He said that the anti-camera initiatives that have cropped up around the state are evidence that many people are opposed to what he called “technological fascism.”

The legal battles that are shaping up because of camera controversies in Mukilteo, Monroe, Bellingham and elsewhere place at issue just how strong a grasp people have on their right to force government change through initiative, Pidgeon said.

“The question is how fundamental is that right and can the Legislature legislate that away,” he said.

Scott North, 425-339-3431, north@heraldnet.com

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