In a series of contradictory motions, the Bradenton City Council ultimately decided Wednesday to allow the city’s existing red-light cameras to go dark while officials work on finding a new vendor.
For now, no more tickets will be written from the city’s seven red-light cameras.
An early motion to let the city’s contract with Colorado-based vendor Xerox expire failed in a 2-3 vote, but officials then took up discussions on finding a new vendor and an agreement was reached to terminate with Xerox in favor of finding a new vendor.
The contract with Xerox expired Tuesday; the city had a 30-day extension contract up for approval, which was not granted. The city will seek more input from a new vendor on what intersections will have cameras with upgraded technology. Officials will conduct workshops to gauge where the most dangerous intersections actually are.
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Vice Mayor Gene Gallo said he supports cameras, but could no longer support the lack of city control when “three of the seven cameras are useless,” catching mostly right turns on red, “at intersections that clearly don’t represent a danger.”
Melissa Wandall, whose husband was killed almost 13 years ago, and whose name is on the red-light camera safety program in Florida, was dismayed by the decision.
“It’s disappointing that the cameras will go dark, but the council had a thoughtful discussion and I’m glad that the city will go forward and find a vendor that will best fit the city’s needs,” she said.
Wandall, a Bradenton resident, was nine months’ pregnant when her husband Mark was killed by a red-light runner in East Manatee. Her daughter was born two weeks later; Wandall is now president of the National Coalition for Safer Roads.
“People are losing their lives,” she said. “I tried for six years to get this bill passed and I will continue to work at it. My husband’s name is on the bill, so I need to make sure it’s a working bill. If this bill was not working and lives were not being saved, I would go to Tallahassee today and ask for my husband’s name to be pulled off this bill.”
The council ultimately agreed, with the exception of Councilman Bemis Smith, that red-light cameras are a viable public safety tool needed in the city of Bradenton. But they did not feel the current vendor was worth retaining.
“I would like to go out to bid,” said Gallo. “There are some issues that can be negotiated and show that this is not about revenue, but we are doing it for public safety and we need to be the ones picking the intersections.”
The city retains about 13 percent of the overall revenue. Since 2010, red-light camera tickets have generated about $5.5 million, but the city has only netted about $270,000. The remaining funds have gone to the state and to the vendor.
Smith conceded that his opposition to red-light cameras has “softened” as of late, but he is not convinced that the cameras are a public safety benefit, rather a punishment for everyday citizens.
“I’m open to putting up cameras in our city if we can get a reasonable sense that there is an actual reduction in red-light accidents,” said Smith. “I’m not satisfied under (the Xerox) contract that we are getting that.”
Councilman Patrick Roff also supports the cameras, but opposed retaining Xerox.
“I’m not against red-light cameras,” he said. “But I’m not happy with this vendor, period.”
Councilman Gene Brown is a staunch proponent of the cameras, also having a personal connection to the issue with the loss of a good friend who was killed by a red-light runner. While a portion of the argument has been on the “milliseconds” that people are being ticketed after a light change, “a millisecond is enough to kill someone,” he said.
“If I pulled out a gun and shot it in the air, but didn’t hit anybody, should I still be arrested just because I didn’t hit anyone? The same thing applies to running red lights,” he said.
How long before new cameras return to Bradenton is unknown. City administrator Carl Callahan said the information the council determines during its workshop sessions is what will decide the request for proposal.
“The RFP process itself won’t take that long,” Callahan said. “Everything I heard today is to try and enhance public safety. How we get there might be a different issue.”