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Red-light camera bill withdrawn for lack of county council votes

A proposal that would spare cities from a possible ban on red-light cameras in St. Charles County  has been withdrawn.

County Councilman Joe Cronin (District 1) withdrew a bill before it was introduced at the Aug. 11 County Council meeting that would have amended provisions of a countywide charter amendment proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Voters are being asked to decide if red-light cameras should be banned countywide. Cronin’s bill would have limited any ban to the unincorporated area. The deadline for ballot measures on the November ballot is Aug. 27.

The council voted 5-0 with one abstention on May 12 to ask voters countywide to decide whether to amend the county charter to prohibit the cameras. The amendment requires a simple majority for passage.

St. Peters is the only governmental body in the county that uses red-light cameras.

Cronin, who voted to abstain at the May meeting, said he doesn’t like red-light cameras. But he said he is worried about whether the county was interfering with the authority of municipalities to regulate themselves.

In his bill, Cronin said Missouri appellate courts have invalidated red-light camera ordinances. But they have held “uniformly, that a city’s use of red-light cameras is a proper exercise of control over traffic on city streets” and is authorized by other court decisions.

His bill asked voters to decide whether red-light cameras or similar devices or automated traffic enforcement systems can be used to enforce traffic regulations “outside of incorporated municipalities.”

“I don’t have the votes,” Cronin said after the Aug. 11 meeting.

He added that the issue may be decided in the courts because municipal officials may end up taking the county to court.

Another councilman has held that the county has the authority to regulate the issue in municipalities – and city officials have already warned that they may take legal action.

Councilman Joe Brazil (District 2) who sponsored the amendment on the ballot, has called the cameras a constitutional and countywide issue, as well as ineffective and a money grab on the part of cities. He dismissed concerns raised by St. Peters and other municipal officials that the measure opened a door to interfering with cities’ abilities to govern themselves.

Some of those concerns were raised by St. Peters Mayor Len Pagano, who appeared before the council at the May 12 meeting.

Pagano said the issue was not about red-light cameras but separation of powers.

Pagano and city officials have not commented extensively about the issue because of pending litigation.

Red-light cameras, mounted at intersections, take photos of vehicles when traffic signals change to red. Violators receive a ticket with photos of their vehicle and have the option of paying a $100 or more fine or appearing in municipal court.

Pagano said that Brazil has misconstrued the facts about the city’s red-light cameras. Police said red-light cameras were not listed as a major cause of accidents at intersections where they are installed.

Since 2006, the cameras have also brought in an average of $87,875 in fines annually, which goes to senior and special transportation programs in the city, he said.

Other residents who spoke during public comment portions of the council meetings in recent months said the cameras raise major constitutional questions because they  limit the right of someone accused of a crime to confront their accuser.”

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