The fight over traffic cameras in one Texas city has both sides seeing red – and hired protesters making $18 an hour.
Voters in Arlington, Texas, will head to the polls Saturday to decide whether red light cameras should stay or go, after a charter amendment was placed on the ballot that, if passed, would ban them. Tea Party leader Kelly Canon and another woman, Faith Bussey, spearheaded a petition drive last year to eliminate the cameras, claiming they are money-making machines that do little to deter drivers from running red lights.
Meanwhile, city officials, police officers and the camera company, American Traffic Solutions (ATS), argue the cameras are essential live-saving tools required at traffic spots.While the debate over red light cameras is an old one that spans several states, the situation in Arlington has taken a unusual twist.
A political action committee called, “Save Lives, Save the Cameras,” hired a Cleveland, Ohio-based marketing firm to pay people $18 an hour to act as protesters against the amendment, according to Canon and others, including Arlington City Councilman Robert Rivera.
While the firm, Extreme Marketing and Promotions, declined to comment on their involvement, FoxNews.com obtained emails and archived Facebook posts from a firm employee, recruiting “sign holders” and “brand ambassadors” to get “a certain message across with holding signs, during the voting process.”
The advertisement calls for candidates who are “outgoing and have high energy” and requires they wear khakis and a “solid nice white top.”
“The marketing firm is trying to create an illusion of local support for the cameras,” said Canon, who is vice president of the Arlington Tea Party. “You basically have a camera company trying to save their monetary hide. They are creating fake groups that they hide behind.”
“This is a corporate money making enterprise trying to influence a campaign,” added Rivera, who said he advocates more effective ways to ensure safety at intersections.
Canon, who said she received her first citation in January 2014 after making a right turn on red, claims the fines from the cameras do nothing to stop people from running red lights.
“We don’t see it as a safety measure,” said Canon. “The cameras can’t prove who is driving and the cameras can’t stop an accident from happening.”
During the midterm elections last year, Canon and Bussey set up their petition drive outside voting precincts and collected 11,405 signatures — well over the 9,300 needed to get their charter amendment on the ballot.Canon said her initiative was given momentum by activists successful in banning the red light cameras in other Texas cities, like Conroe, Dayton, Houston, Baytown, League City and College Station. She and Bussey are now part of a PAC, “Citizens For a Better Arlington,” that formed late last year.
Under the traffic camera system in Texas, drivers who run a red light are fined $75 for the initial infraction and then a $25 late fee if the money is not paid within 30 days.
“On the copy of the late notice it says, ‘If you don’t pay it, we will turn it over to a collection agency,'” claimed Canon. “But we came to find out — by looking at state law — that a credit agency cannot touch your credit report for the failure of your payment for a civil penalty.”
The address for the “Save Lives, Same the Cameras” PAC is a UPS storefront in north Arlington. Canon and others said the PAC missed the deadline to report its finances, making it difficult to confirm who is funding it.
ATS spokesman Charles Territo said in an e-mail the company supports the efforts of “Save Lives, Save the Cameras,” but directed questions about the campaign and its activities to the PAC itself.
Jody Weiderman, spokesman for Save Lives, Save the Cameras, told FoxNews.com, “All too often in these debates those who get tickets for red-light running act like they are the victims. The real victims of red-light running are the families and loved ones of those injured or killed in red-light running related collisions.
“The fact of the matter is that there have been zero fatalities at any of the intersections with cameras in Arlington since red-light safety cameras have been deployed.”
Police officers in Arlington say they are opposed to the removal of the red light cameras.
The cameras have reduced accidents up to 75 percent at some intersections and revenue from the cameras heavily funds the city’s DWI unit, according to ABC affiliate WFAA.
If the cameras were removed, “It would be a huge impact on the Arlington police department,” Arlington Police Sgt. Becki Brandenburg told the station. “We would no longer have a DWI unit.”
“I think we’ll have an increase in DWI’s, DWI accidents, and DWI fatalities,” said Brandenburg, who is president of the Arlington Police Association.
ATS states on its website that, “A crash caused by a driver who runs a red light is more likely to result in serious injury or death.”
The site also posts testimonials from law enforcement officials around the country touting the effectiveness of red light cameras.
“When asked if we still need this program, the majority of people still said yes. And I notice when I am on the road that, even at the intersections where there are no cameras, more people are approaching those intersections more cautiously,” the site quotes a Florida sheriff as saying.
Still, Canon claims the system is flawed and designed to rake in as much revenue as possible.
“I’m very confident this amendment is going to pass,” she said.