Friday, May 10, 2013

City Gets Last LOL on Red Light Cameras

I am outraged, yet in awe, at the evil genius of Iowa City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes.

Dilkes has finally offered her opinion on the red light camera petition, now that City Clerk Marian Karr has finally finished her legally questionable micro-review of the second batch of signatures. One petition supporter, who actually thanked Karr on Facebook, said four clerks were reviewing the signatures in addition to the rest of their work.

Predictably, Dilkes determined that: 
the portion of the petition dealing with traffic-enforcement cameras is a referendum and is untimely, because the City Charter says a referendum petition must be filed within 60 days of the adoption of the measure in question or not until two years after adoption.

Dilkes said the sections on drones and license-plate readers were initiatives and timely, but the council has not authorized the use of those technologies and the city does not use them.
But here's the M. Night Shyamalan twist ending:
However, Dilkes, City Manager Tom Markus and other staff whose departments are affected by the matter are recommending the council repeal the camera ordinance anyway and adopt one similar in substance to the initiative portion of the petition.

Their reasoning is that the city has no immediate plans to install red-light cameras because the Iowa Department of Transportation is developing guidelines for the use of those and speed cameras on state routes, a process expected to last through the end of the year. Most of the intersections where Iowa City wants the cameras are state roads.
I see dead petitions

The idea behind the petition process - I'm just a clerk not a lawyer so I'm not going to argue initiative vs. referendum - is that you either get the council to do what you want or you get a vote. And Dilkes just pulled the rug out from under the petitioners... by giving them just what they asked for and nothing more.

Well, technically, it's not Dilkes giving them what they asked for. The council has to vote yet, but come on. This is Iowa City government. The council just does what the staff tells them. Gregg Hennigan finds a gem at Herteen and Stocker:
At least one council member who strongly supports the use of red-light cameras – the city had no plans to use speed cameras – said he’d follow that recommendation, albeit reluctantly.

“The biggest reason I hate to repeal it is I get tired of about being run over every time I go to the post office,” said Terry Dickens, adding he’d still like red-light cameras to eventually go up at Iowa City intersections.
Because for Terry, it's all about Terry.  Remember how his first priority after getting elected was to pass an ordinance to keep the homeless from begging in front of his diamond store?

By repealing, at least temporarily, red light cameras, the city loses no revenue. They can just pass it later after the DOT figures out the rules.

They also avoid a couple legal arguments. They still stand on their position that the red light camera part was a non-timely referendum, yet the supporters don't have anything to sue about if they get the ordinance repealed anyway.

More important, for me anyway, they avoid a showdown over Karr's definition of the "qualified electors" eligible to sign petitions. She has always contended that it means registered to vote at current address, and she aggressively strikes those who aren't. But in the election day registration era, any non-felon, of age U.S. citizen with an Iowa City address can, with documents, register and vote.

I would really, really, REALLY like to see Karr's definition tested and tossed out. But if the council incumbents can stop laughing long enough to pass the "drones" part of the petition, there's no ballot issue and no way to force the qualified elector definition to the test.

But the most important thing Dilkes' opinion accomplishes: it takes these questions out of the November election. The other two petitions - marijuana and 21 Bar Round 3 - are unlikely to qualify. I've been begging for a week to sign them and no one has contacted me.

So without the ballot issues for motivation, the petition supporters are less motivated to vote. Adopting the proposals will keep those unwashed heathens and (shudder) students from voting in the all-important re-election of Terry Dickens and Susan Mims. Now all people will have to vote on are candidates, and historically it's been much harder to get non-traditional voters out in the city election without ballot issues.

They council did the same thing in the 80s. You all know those Nuclear Free Zone signs at the city limits. That was a petitioned issue, too. The council passed the symbolic yet toothless measure to keep the issue off the ballot and keep the No Nukes folks from getting out to vote for Karen Kubby.

And the red light camera folks can't complain, because they got what they asked for. Do you think they realize they just got played?

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