ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- As voting gets underway in the mayoral and council elections, St. Pete residents find themselves confronted with choices that could change the city's direction on the Pier, Major League Baseball, and red light cameras.
The red light camera (RLC) issue, one that's been investigated thoroughly by 10 News in recent months, has been brought up repeatedly at candidate forums and debates.
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The 10 News Investigators identified several intersections in St. Petersburg where malfunctioning signals resulted in short yellow lights, which created more red light camera tickets. Those problems have since been fixed.
But St. Pete also relies a great deal on citing drivers for making routine right-turns-on-red, an everyday maneuver that is issuing millions of dollars in citations, $158 at a time.
Kathleen Ford, who is one of two prime challengers to incumbent Mayor Bill Foster, says she would eliminate St. Pete's red light camera safety program if elected.
"The city has really lost a lot of credibility on this issue," Ford says.
She thinks St. Pete should look into ending its contract with camera company American Traffic Solutions (ATS) and refund any driver who was wrongly ticketed.
Fellow challenger Rick Kriseman also wants to refund wrongly-ticketed drivers in St. Pete, but wants to keep red light cameras. He says he hasn't studied specifics of the city's RLC program yet but has been concerned at some of the issues raised by the 10 News Investigators and wants to review the city's policies.
"To me, it's always been about safety," Kriseman says, adding his opposition to for-profit ticketing.
But Mayor Foster says he too opposes ticketing for profit over safety. While he has opposed the suggestion of offering refunds on potentially erroneous RLC violations, Foster maintains the cameras are saving lives as well as taxpayer dollars.
"The cost of accidents and careless driving (from) the cost of police and fire...far outweighs the revenues from red light cameras," Foster says. "As you see incidents of red-light-running go down, hopefully we don't need so many."
Foster said the large majority of drivers who receive RLC violations never receive a second one.
St. Petersburg has also seen a dramatic drop in the amount of tickets its cameras are issuing, to the extent that it has forecasted a significant drop in revenue next fiscal year.
"I think the camera safety program is doing well," Foster adds. "You know, thanks to some of [10 News'] reporting, we found some deficiencies...but its modified behavior."
Sixty-two thousand ballots were mailed to voters in St. Petersburg this week, as four council seats and the mayor's job are all on the line. Election Day is August 27, with two mayoral candidates expected to head to a run-off in November.
Foster, Ford, and Kriseman are joined on the ballot by political newcomer Anthony Cates and Paul Congemi, who has run for mayor before.
Cates told 10 News, via email, that he would not expand the RLC program if elected.
"The appropriate amount of time allotted between light changes aren't sufficient enough," Cates wrote. "Also, yellow lights now put fear in drivers feet so they're more prone to slam on breaks and as a result, rear end red light traffic accidents has increased significantly.
"From day one when the system was installed designers knew this was a flawed system, yet still installed it. As leaders we owe the [citizens] tax payers an explanation and apology on faulty tickets that caused some citizens license to become suspended and driver privileges revoked."
Congemi said the cameras "are a waste of time" and "if people would just slow down and take it easy, they wouldn't have to worry about [violations]."
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