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Monday, Nov 24, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Preposterous logic used in St. Pete red-light situation

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It is really no surprise to hear cockamamie things fly from the open mouths of our sainted leaders, so there is a pretty high bar to clear to even get the public’s attention, let alone outrage.

But folks, this time I think we have a winner.

The logic used by St. Petersburg transportation director Joe Kubicki to deny refunds to victims of bogus red-light camera violations that may be bogus is. ... Is ... Is ...

Astounding?

Preposterous?

Worthy of enshrinement in the bureaucrat silly statement hall of fame?

I vote for all of the above.

***

Kubicki acknowledged to a city council committee that the caution light interval at First Avenue South and 34th Street was two-tenths of a second short. Last week, the city increased the time the light stays yellow.

Translation: The city messed up.

So, what does that mean for the 778 drivers (at least) who each got a $158 fine after the camera standing vigil captured them violating the too-short caution light?

Um, nothing.

Kubicki called it an “adequate margin for error” and added, “There’s plenty of time to stop at that intersection.”

A car traveling 40 mph through there would travel almost 10 feet in two-tenths of a second. That may not sound like a lot, until you’re the one who gets a notice that says you broke the law and we would like our check as soon as possible.

***

Let’s approach this from the other direction, shall we?

Let’s say it comes time to pay your property taxes, and you and the city disagree on how large the check should be. You inform the city the amount you sent has an “adequate margin for error” even though you admit it isn’t as much as you’re supposed to pay.

Gee, I wonder what the city’s response would be?

On this issue, though, St. Petersburg is basically telling citizens tough noogies, even though some of the citations likely were wrong. There are 22 other cameras, but Kubicki told the committee the city doesn’t have the budget to check them for accuracy.

I smell a legal challenge here, especially given that St. Pete also increased the caution time last year because of a state mandate.

Proponents of cameras point to statistics showing that when camera clicks go up, accidents go down in those areas.

Opponents dispute those stats just as vigorously. What isn’t in dispute is that cameras are increasingly large money-makers for cities and towns — a backdoor tax, if you will.

Who wins in that scenario?

Well, you know who. And that, precisely, is what drives people crazy about their government. That makes people want to scream and cuss. That type of attitude is exasperating, infuriating and, did I mention, just plain wrong?

The timing of these caution lights is off, but too bad.

You had to pay a fine you may not have owed, but too bad.

The city takes its cut from the fines, all right, but there isn’t money to monitor whether the system is working like it should. Too bad.

This goes way beyond the debate of whether cities should use cameras to patrol these intersections. You can make the argument that they have reduced accidents. I know I drive differently when I think I’m being watched (and we’re basically always being watched).

But when the city admits that a mistake was made potentially resulting in hundreds of erroneous citations, officials have a duty to make it right. In this case, though, they didn’t make it right.

Instead, they made it worse.

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