A state lawmaker whose vehicle was shown speeding by a traffic camera in upper East Tennessee co-sponsored a bill to take that camera down this year, reports The City Paper. Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) was cited for driving 60 miles an hour in a 45 mile-per-hour zone while driving in Bluff City in 2010, just weeks before voters elected him to a third election. The photo-enforced traffic cameras did not show images of the driver, and Lundberg said an employee of his public relations firm was driving the company vehicle at the time.
The traffic camera speeding ticket “has absolutely zero effect” on his decision to sponsor the bill, Lundberg told The City Paper. “In fact, until you said that, I completely forgot about that.”
Lundberg was cited after his 1998 Ford F15 was pictured driving 15-miles over the speed limit just after lunchtime on Oct. 21, 2010. The $90 fine was paid. Because the traffic camera images do not include a photo of the driver, the ticket is considered a non-moving infraction.
The stretch of road leading up to the photo-enforced intersection had been a point of controversy a month before Lundberg’s company vehicle sped through the intersection. Local city officials were figuring out when and whether to change speed limits leading up to the site in reaction to a new ban freshly approved by lawmakers that spring to space out speed reductions and photo-enforced cameras.
The cameras are still a sore spot to this day, said Lundberg. He said he receives constant complaints that the traffic cameras are a deterrent for travelers wanting to visit the Bristol Motor Speedway in his district. He said he is also worried about traffic crashes at the site of the cameras.
— Note: The bill, HB314, did not pass.
Tennessee state Rep. Timothy Hill remains committed to his legislation banning Bluff City’s speed enforcement cameras despite criticism from the town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen, reports Hank Hayes. “I’m disappointed with the name calling,” Hill, R-Blountville, said when asked for a response to that criticism occurring at a board meeting Thursday night. “That doesn’t advance any discussion. … I’m surprised that if the city is that concerned with my legislation — I figured they would be — I’m surprised they have not reached out to me at this point. I’ve never been invited to a BMA meeting. I have yet to have one of their aldermen reach out to me in any form or fashion to have a discussion on this.”
Bluff City aldermen warned that losing revenue from those speed cameras will hurt funding for various projects, including a Sullivan County-supported library in town.
The speed cameras, located on Highway 11-E are not in Bluff City’s downtown area and also catch motorists moving through business areas of the Piney Flats community.
A federal judge has dismissed a $6 million class action lawsuit filed against Bluff City, its mayor and an Arizona-based traffic camera company regarding tickets issued from two speed-enforcement cameras on Highway 11-E, reports the Kingsport Times-News. Motorists Chris Cawood and Jonathan Kelly Proffitt filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in September 2011 naming Bluff City, Mayor Irene Wells and American Traffic Solutions as the defendants.
The lawsuit claimed Bluff City and ATS conspired to violate the Fair Debt Collections Act, state law and the city’s own ordinances by imposing an administrative fee of $40 on top of the $50 fine imposed for motorists allegedly captured on the city’s two speed-enforcement cameras on Highway 11-E.
Last month, Judge Ronnie Greer granted the motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
In his opinion, Greer wrote that conspiracy has to be supported with enough factual allegations … that is plausible on its face.
“The only factual allegation regarding ATS is that ATS installed and maintained the cameras at issue,” Greer wrote, noting this is insufficient to establish a conspiracy.
BLUFF CITY, Tenn. (AP) — Despite a lawsuit and temporary shutdown, speed cameras in Bluff City have become a significant revenue generator that netted the city nearly $1.6 million.
An audit obtained by the Bristol Herald Courier shows that in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the city’s general fund earned $2.6 million, which included $1.9 million in fines and forfeitures that primarily came from tickets issued by cameras along U.S. Highway 11E (http://bit.ly/yIBHK1 ).
The city signed a contract with American Traffic Solutions, and the cameras catch speeders going over 55 mph in a 45 mph zone along Bristol Highway in Sullivan County.
Between Jan. 1, 2010, and May 31, 2011, the cameras have resulted in nearly 40,000 citations to drivers from all 50 states, Canada and the District of Columbia.
The city temporarily turned them off last year after a state law required a longer distance between a speed zone change and the cameras. The town had to lengthen the speed zone to comply and refunded $46,700 in fines.
A federal lawsuit has been filed against the town by two people who were issued citations.
The revenue generated from the citations, which cost drivers $50 to $90 each, goes into the city’s general fund. The revenue from the citations exceeds other taxes collected into the general fund, including property taxes, sales taxes and intergovernmental revenue.
City manager Judy Delaney said the city can afford projects that would normally be outside the town’s budget with the money from the citations. The Board of Mayor and Alderman recently donated $50,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Bristol to help start a club in Bluff City.
“The cameras made it possible,” Delaney said. “Without the cameras, we would not be able to do that.”
An Upper East Tennessee town’s already troubled traffic camera enforcement program has hit another speed bump — a federal proposed class-action lawsuit, reports the News Sentinel. Attorney Dan Stanley has filed on behalf of motorists Chris Cawood and Jonathan Kelly Proffitt a $6 million proposed class-action lawsuit against Bluff City and its mayor, Irene Wells, and the Arizona-based traffic camera firm American Traffic Solutions Inc. Cawood is a Kingston attorney.
The lawsuit alleges the city and the firm are conspiring to violate the Fair Debt Collections Act, state law and the city’s own ordinances by imposing an administrative fee of $40 on top of the $50 fine imposed for motorists allegedly captured on the city’s two speed enforcement cameras on Highway 11E.
The plaintiffs further allege the city and firm are “threatening criminal prosecution for contempt of court and suspension of driver’s licenses” if the fees and fines aren’t paid. The action also alleges the city created a “speed trap” on the section of Highway 11E under enforcement by the city’s cameras by dropping the speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph less than a mile from where the cameras are posted.
Previous post HERE.
Bluff City Mayor Irene Wells sounded exasperated Monday, says the Johnson City Press.
She not only was upset about the handling, or mishandling, of the city’s speed cameras on U.S. Highway 11E, but also about what she feels is a purposeful exclusion of her opinions and abilities as mayor. (Yesterday’s related post HERE.) Interim City Manager, City Recorder and Finance Officer Judy A. Dulaney shut down the camera aimed at the southbound lanes last week after it was brought to her attention that the city had been violating state law since July 1. For more than two months after legislation was enacted, the city failed to move two posted 45 mph signs on the southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 11E at least one mile away from the devices
…”They tell me nothing — I’m not included in their little network,” Wells said about Dulaney and the Board of Aldermen. “I’m a person on the outside looking in. I just find out things like this when I read the newspaper or watch the news.”
Article VI, Sec. 1 of the city charter states that “The Town Manager, town attorney and town judge shall serve at the pleasure of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.”
“They took my office and my desk, and apparently they don’t want me around,” Wells said. “And no one’s even asked my opinion on the speed camera and signs. The sign distance was going to be a problem, but former City Manager Don Weaver had introduced a resolution to take care of it.”
Wells, who was a sitting alderwoman, was appointed mayor at a special called meeting on June 28 by two of the city’s five alderman.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state Rep. Jon Lundberg say they didn’t realize the new state law on traffic cameras would immediately impact the speed ticket cameras in Bluff City, reports the Bristol Herald Courier. Bluff City officials didn’t either, until a ticketed motorist pointed out an August attorney general’s opinion on the new law. (Previous post HERE.)
A provision of the new law says no speed cameras are permitted within a mile of a speed limit reduction of 10 mph or more. The two legislators and the Bluff City officials thought a state constitutional provision against impairment of existing contracts, however, would mean the provision wouldn’t apply to existing cameras covered by an existing contract. The AG opinion says, basically, that it does – there are legal exceptions to the broad rule of non-impairment of contracts and the meant the new law’s provisions fall within those exceptions. (AG Bob) Cooper’s opinion – and a protest from Jim Bollinger – prompted the city to temporarily shut down one of its two traffic cameras amid concerns the device might have illegally been issuing tickets to hundreds of drivers for the past 2½ months.
“They’ve got one hell of a mess going on there in Bluff City,” Bollinger said as he looked back on what’s happened since he Googled “Chapter 425.”
City officials knew they’d either have to move their speed camera or extend the city’s 45-mph-zone to comply with this last regulation (the one-mile ban). But they also thought they’d have plenty of time to take those steps because of a little known clause in the Tennessee constitution.
“We can’t break contracts by legislation,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican who represents Bluff City in the state Senate, said as he explained what the constitution’s contract clause entails. “We were told in committee that we can’t break or interfere with an existing contract through legislation.”
Because the new rules contained in Public Chapter 425 could somehow impact the contract a city has with its camera system operator, Ramsey said, many state legislators including himself believed the new rules would not apply to individual cities until their contracts expired – including Bluff City.
Under this interpretation, Bluff City would not have to take any action to comply with the law until Jan. 1, 2025, the expiration date for its contract with American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company that manages the system and supplied the cameras.
“We can’t change an existing contract,” said state Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who shares Ramsey’s interpretation of the constitution’s contract clause. “We don’t have that authority.”
But while Lundberg agreed with Ramsey about the contract clause, he also questioned whether making Bluff City extend its 45-mph-zone or move its speed camera might also interfere with the camera-company contract.
….”I was told that we were grandfathered in,” Interim City Manager Judy Dulaney said Wednesday when asked why she shut the camera down amid questions about its legality. “I’m not going to take a chance on that. The city wants to do what is right.”
Ramsey praised Dulaney’s suspension of the southbound camera and subsequent declaration that any citations issued since July 1 were “under review” during a Friday afternoon interview. He also said Cooper’s opinion has caused some confusion across the state.
BLUFF CITY, Tenn. (AP) — Bluff City officials are enjoying the extra revenue from speed cameras that have generated more than a million dollars in a little over a year, but the windfall could be short-lived.
Between Jan. 1, 2010, and May 31, 2011, the cameras on U.S. Highway 11E in Piney Flats issued 39,923 citations to drivers, including now Gov. Bill Haslam, who was ticketed last year when he was caught speeding during his campaign.
The tickets netted the city nearly $1.6 million — an amount equal to eight times Bluff City’s total property tax collections from the last fiscal year — during that period, according to the Bristol Herald Courier.
Purchases with the money include a new support truck for the city’s rescue squad and putting a shelter over a caboose in the city park.
But Interim City Manager Judy Dulaney said the two biggest accomplishments are funneling about a fourth of the money directly into the city’s existing operations budget and putting some away for a rainy day.
“These things wouldn’t normally be in a budget,” Dulaney said. “But because of these extra funds, we were able to buy them.”
While the extra money has been beneficial, the cameras have their critics, particularly those who consider the Piney Flats corridor a speed trap.
By Erik Schelzig
NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam says he will sign into law a traffic camera bill that aims to eliminate their use as speed traps and reduce private vendors’ influence over where they are located.
The governor can draw on personal experience — as an enforcer and as a violator — in deciding to enact the legislation that passed both chambers overwhelmingly. In his previous job as Knoxville mayor, Haslam oversaw the installation of red light cameras at city intersections.
And while running for governor last year, he was ticketed when he was caught speeding by a camera in Bluff City that critics deride as a speed trap.
“I understand some people didn’t like them, but they worked,” Haslam said of the Knoxville cameras. “They made intersections a safer place.”