An Arlington resident filed suit Wednesday seeking a temporary or permanent injunction that would prevent the city from letting voters decide in May whether to ban red-light cameras.
The Arlington City Council voted Tuesday night to place a proposed city charter amendment that would remove the red-light cameras on the May 9 ballot. The council had to call the special election after red-light camera critics collected more than the 9,651 valid signatures from registered voters required to force the referendum.
Resident Jody Weiderman sued the city and Mayor Robert Cluck in Tarrant County district court, saying that the resident-driven initiative undermines the council’s obligation to advance public safety.
“Should we allow a public referendum to repeal random, unannounced restaurant inspections to enforce health regulations simply because they limit the profitability of restaurants? Should we allow a referendum to prohibit the use of breathalyzer kits on weekend nights because it restricts the social habits of some citizens?” the suit states.
“By the same token, the City Council has enacted the Program because of its considered opinion that red-light cameras promote the enforcement of existing traffic safety laws, which deters drivers from running red lights and reduces intersection collisions. That judgment regarding the enforcement of public safety laws cannot be subject to the whim of a popular vote.”
A hearing on the temporary restraining order request could be this week, city officials said.
Assistant City Attorney Robert Fugate said the 11,400 signatures submitted to the city by red-light camera opponents were independently verified by the Tarrant County elections office.
“They had more than enough signatures,” Fugate said. “We believe the election has been properly called, and it’s proper for the citizens to have the election.”
Weiderman’s suit, however, says the voter-initiated charter amendment proposal is illegal and void because the City Charter does not provide for a right of referendum. Under the state Transportation Code, only the City Council, not residents, can repeal local laws related to the use of red-light cameras.
“The exercise of that authority, solely granted to the City Council by the Legislature, should not be subject to revocation by referendum,” the suit states.
Arlington’s city charter doesn’t address referendums, meaning they are not prohibited, Fugate said. And Arlington has had elections in the past based on petitions. The most recent example was the November 2013 election that allowed package liquor stores to open within the city limits for the first time.
“Our charter doesn’t address referendums one way or another. State law does. State law says if a certain number of citizens file a petition and they are registered voters and they meet the requirements, the council has to allow the election,” Fugate said. “We are following state law and doing what we are required to.”
While state law does allow city councils to adopt red-light cameras, “there is no part of the law that says citizens can’t amend the charter so that it is not allowed in a given city,” Fugate said.
“Once the petition has been filed, whether you are for red-light cameras or against red-light cameras, the courts have clearly said the election has got to go forward,” Fugate said.
The council approved installation of red-light cameras in 2007. Arlington has a 20-year contract with American Traffic Solutions to operate the system, which has cameras at 19 intersections. The contract expires in July 2027 but includes provisions that would let Arlington terminate the agreement without penalty with 90 days’ notice, city officials have said.
Weiderman is represented by the same team of attorneys that represents the red-light camera vendor that has fought other Texas cities that have called elections over whether to ban the cameras, Fugate said.
“This lawsuit is being driven completely by American Traffic Solutions,” Fugate said.
The camera opponents say they believe the cameras have resulted in more rear-end collisions at monitored intersections and are nothing more than a cash cow for the city.
Citizens for a Better Arlington, which coordinated the petition drive with the Arlington Tea Party, responded to the suit in a statement to the Star-Telegram: “We are working closely with our legal counsel to ensure that the city puts up a proper defense of our petition and that the will of the people is not thwarted by a greedy company whose bottom line has always been more important than the safety of citizens.”
Kelly Canon, Arlington Tea Party vice president, said Wednesday she was not surprised by the lawsuit.
“There have been six elections in Texas [so far] over this issue, and each time, the people have overwhelmingly voted to have the cameras removed from their streets,” Canon wrote in an email to the Star-Telegram. “This is why the camera vendor doesn’t want this issue to appear on the ballot, and they will do whatever it takes to keep the people from having their say. We feel confident that the City of Arlington will vigorously defend the will of the people who have signed our petition.”
This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639