BROOKSVILLE, Florida - You could call it a love triangle, except there is no love lost between the three parties fighting over red light cameras in one of Florida's smallest cities.
Florida's leading red light camera-provider American Traffic Solutions confirms to 10 Investigates Wednesday that it has joined the fight to prevent a citizen-backed referendum on red light cameras from ever reaching a ballot. The city is also fighting the referendum on grounds that it infringes upon city council's power.
However, the enemy of the city's enemy is not its friend in this case; the city is objecting to the intervention from the industry-backed group.
As previously reported by 10 Investigates, Tampa law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt incorporated a group last week called "Keep Florida Roads Safe," and immediately filed lawsuits to prevent voters from having a say on red light cameras (RLC). The firm has represented ATS before, but would not reveal if it formed the new group on behalf of ATS.
ATS, which has the majority of Florida' 70+ RLC contracts but not Brooksville's, appears concerned about a possible precedent-setting legal decision and citizen vote.
American Traffic Solutions, which provides red light cameras, is fighting to prevent a citizen-backed referendum on the devices from reaching a ballot.
The company, which has spent approximately $1 million lobbying Tallahassee the last three years alone, refused to comment on whether its "support" of Keep Florida Roads Safe included financial support. ATS' typically-forthcoming spokesman, Charley Territo, kept repeating a carefully-worded email statement, "ATS supports the coalition and its efforts to promote red-light safety cameras."
Carlton Fields answered questions about the leadership and purpose of "Keep Florida Roads Safe" with a prepared statement Wednesday afternoon. The statement didn't give any hints as to whom incorporated the group, but said, "It is a non-profit entity whose purpose is to ensure that decision makers at all levels of government are educated about the relationship between state and local laws governing traffic safety...Keep Florida Roads Safe supports the city of Brooksville's position on their red-light safety camera program and stands ready to provide any assistance needed in their efforts to continue the important safety initiative."
Texas attorney Andy Taylor, in Brooksville to represent the coalition, told 10 Investigates the coalition was made up of citizens and businesses that favored keeping cameras on Florida roads. However, he couldn't identify if any of the citizens were from Hernando County.
"I don't know the addresses of the citizens - you can call the law firm (Carlton Fields) that helped me file the petition," Taylor said. "What I can tell you in confidence is that this organization is designed for one single purpose, and that is to keep the red light camera program going statewide because it saves lives."
Taylor said he had worked on similar campaigns in numerous other states. 10 Investigates found similarly-named red light camera "advocacy" groups around the country, including: SaferCARoads.com, SaferCreoleRoads.com, SaferLouisianaRoads.com, SaferNewYork.com, SaferNYRoads.com,SaferTexasRoads.com, SaferTucson.com, TexasSafe.com, CreoleRoadSaftey.com, KeepIllionoisSafe.com,KeepJacksonSafe.com, KeepCaliforniaSafe.com, KeepCookCountySafe.com, KeepTennesseeSafe.com, KeepTNSafe.com,SafeCreoleRoads.com, SafeLouisianaRoads.com, SafeAmericanRoads.com, SaferCajunRoads.com, KeepNolaSafe.com,KeepNYCSafe.com, KeepLASafe.com, KeepLincolnSafe.com, KeepMesaSafe.com and KeepNassauSafe.com.
In addition to suing the petition-gatherers, Keep Florida Roads Safe is also suing the county's Supervisor of Elections, Shirley Anderson, to prevent her office from putting a red light camera referendum on the county ballot. Anderson's attorney, Cliff Taylor, has filed a motion to remove her from the suit.
"It amazes us that this small city can garner this much attention, except that we could set a precedent in Florida," Pat & Shirley Miketinac, the defendants who gathered the petitions, told 10 Investigates in an email. "Just imagine if the citizens found out that they could have a say in their own government. That might set a 'dangerous' precedent indeed!"
"It's all about the money," said Hernando County Commissioner Jim Adkins, who used to work for the city of Brooksville. "Follow the money trail (to) find out what's going on."
Cliff Taylor also serves as general counsel for the City of Brooksville, which maintains the ballot language is unconstitutional by restricting council's power to sign into future camera contracts. The Miketinacs are seeking to end the city's current red light camera contract with Sensys America and prohibit future city councils from ever entering into another RLC contract.
Brooksville has developed a reputation for using the cameras to generate huge profits, mostly through over-aggressive right turn on red ticketing. The town of about 8,000 residents makes millions of dollars a year on RLC fines.
On Wednesday, a Hernando County judge told the Miketinacs and the city to plan for a judgement hearing on October 14. It's still unclear if Keep Florida Roads Safe will be allowed to take part in the hearing.
If the case needs to go to trial, it would take place no earlier than early December, leaving a special election the only hope for citizens looking to cast ballots on red light cameras.
UPDATE: Red light camera critic and former Florida Highway Patrol officer Paul Henry filed a complaint with the state Wednesday, alleging Keep Florida Roads Safe was registered to 424 SW 7th St. in Miami, a 16-unit apartment complex with no designated apartment number. Because valid addresses are required, he is seeking to invalidate the group's incorporation records.
UPDATE 2: Following the complaint and 10 Investigates' report, "Keep Florida Roads Safe" changed its mailing address to 9423 Town Center Parkway in Lakewood Ranch. The address corresponds to an office building.