Halt use of city speed cameras until appeals process is fixed
Many, many times we have used this space to strongly oppose use of speed cameras operated in a way that permits police to skip the traffic stop and instead allow a third party to send the ticket by U.S. mail to the speeding automobile’s unsuspecting owner.
What we didn’t expect was to be even more appalled by a severe lack of due process that’s been being dismissed by Youngstown’s city leaders since they enacted the school zone speed camera program earlier this year.
The unmanned cameras have been operating in Youngstown school zones since February (sans days when school is not in session). During that time, 22,424 speed camera tickets have been issued via mail — yet not one appeal has been heard. That’s because Youngstown Municipal Court and city leaders have been at odds over the process and the massive increase in workload triggered by the city’s implementation of school zone speed cameras that led to the issuance of thousands of tickets. Ohio law specifically spells out that speed camera tickets must be heard in the local court — not by a city-
appointed administrative officer.
Since implementation, about 300 speed camera tickets have been appealed, but the court has heard none of them.
About two months after the program kicked off, Youngstown Municipal Court Administrative and Presiding Judge Carla Baldwin sent a letter to Mayor Jamael “Tito” Brown and police Chief Carl Davis expressing concerns about the appeal process and requesting a meeting to discuss it.
In her April 4 letter Baldwin wrote: “There has been considerable attention to promoting and announcing the program, (but) it appears that there has been a lack of attention to important details as it relates to processing appeals.”
She pointed out that no one contacted court officials concerning the hiring or assignment of court staff needed to hear and dispose of such appeals.
“In short, the city appears to have enacted these ordinances without in any way ensuring that there are appropriate procedures, resources or personnel necessary to carry out the appeals stated in the ordinances,” Baldwin wrote.
Baldwin also listed what she sees as shortcomings in the legislation such as no details on affidavits filed by those who had their vehicle or license plates stolen and received citations, no relief for companies that lease or rent vehicles, the lack of affidavits with corporate entities, court costs and “mechanical difficulties” such as default judgments when a person fails to appear but later is able to show good cause why that happened.
Municipal court Administrator David Magura Jr. also questions who would accept payments during disputed citation cases: the court or Blue Line Solutions, the Tennessee company that runs the program and gets 35 percent of all citation revenue.
“We don’t want to make this sloppy,” Magura said. “We need to do our due diligence. It’s a conversation that’s got to happen.”
Still, no conversation has happened, and Magura told our reporter last week that the court should have been consulted from the beginning of discussions, but it was not.
We are incredibly disappointed that this matter has been allowed to drag on for months with no resolution, even as tickets were being issued. As we see it, the court did its duty by bringing the matter to the attention of city officials, yet the city did not resolve the matter and appears to have dismissed it as unimportant while continuing to police for profit from motorists with no plan on how to dispute the fines.
City leaders should have tended to that matter immediately or shut down the cameras until such time when it could be resolved.
Now, legislation sponsored by the mayor will come before city council this evening calling for modification of the language in the speed camera ordinance first approved last November.
Once again, the city is considering passage of this issue without any conversations or involvement of the court.
In fact, Magura wrote last week in an email to the city law department that having council consider the legislation still does not provide adequate time to thoroughly examine the proposed changes and their impact on our judicial processes.
“Rushing this process without due diligence could lead to unintended consequences and complications in our operations,” and the administration’s proposal “does not offer a comprehensive analysis of the potential ramifications on our docket and operations,” Magura said
Without proper means for due diligence, this program must not stand.
Last we checked, this was still America.
We call on council to end this program now.