Picking the pockets of public halted

First Posted: 11/11/2014

That didn’t take long.

The mayor of Maple Heights admitted Monday that the Cleveland suburb could have problems balancing its budget after 77 percent of voters approved a ballot measure that banned the use of traffic cameras.

The cameras had generated almost $1 million in revenue for the city during the four months they were in operation. Of course, when they were installed in July, city officials hyped the camera’s alleged safety benefits — not the fact they were shaking down unsuspecting motorists to raise revenue for Maple Heights.

The overwhelming defeat at the polls left Mayor Jeff Lansky little choice but to finally come clean on why he was so gung-ho about traffic cameras. He saw them as a cash cow that could rescue the financially strapped city of 23,000, which currently is under state fiscal watch.

Nevermind the use of the cameras likely violated due process. Owners of cars were fined without any proof that they were actually driving the vehicle. To prove their innocence, they were being forced to engage in a needless and expensive court battle. In coming months, the Ohio Supreme Court is expected to settle the question of due process rights when it rules on a case out of Toledo.

As for cameras and safety, there are competing opinions. Some studies have shown that speed and red light cameras have a positive effect on traffic safety while others have disputed those findings and criticized the researchers’ methodology. We can only point out what happened in Lima several years ago. There was no public outcry about speeding problems in the years before the city wanting to add cameras. People did complain, however, when the city tried to install cameras in the name of “safety issues.” The outrage finally caused city officials to back off their plans. And guess what? There has been no public outcry about speeding problems since then.

The lesson here: Little good occurs when government officials hide their real motives.

All arguments could be moot by year’s end. Senate President Keith Faber said earlier this year that he and his Republican colleagues are considering legislation to restrict the use of speed cameras. The Ohio House passed a bill last year that would restrict camera enforcement to school zones where a police officer is present.

It’s time motorists are allowed to smile because they no longer are on Big Brother’s candid camera.

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