A circuit court ruling has upheld a voter approved countywide ban on the use of red-light cameras in St. Charles County, going against arguments by St. Peters and other county municipalities questioning its constitutionality.
St. Charles County Circuit Judge Daniel Pelikan ruled on Nov. 16 that the charter amendment county voters approved in 2014 concerning the red-light camera ban and the wording of the proposition on the ballot complies with the Missouri Constitution. Pelikan stated that while municipal power over traffic regulations on municipal streets is public policy, that policy “does not extend to grant exclusive control to the municipalities for traffic regulation.”
In his 21-page ruling on various counts, Pelikan rejects the major contention of the suit that the amendment infringes upon municipal authority over setting traffic and other regulations.
The state constitution grants the county the right “to exercise power over any and all services and functions of any municipality or political subdivision, including, but not limited to, setting limitations on that power, in the area of traffic regulation,” Pelikan wrote.
Meanwhile, St. Peters and other municipal officials involved with the case had not indicated, as of Nov. 17, if they are going to appeal Pelikan’s ruling. Lisa Bedian, communications director for St. Peters, said the city’s governing boards have not had a chance to discuss the ruling with legal counsel.
The cities fear that the amendment may lead toward the county exercising more power over city governments.
The St. Charles County Council placed the charter amendment on the November 2014 ballot asking voters to decide whether to ban red-light cameras countywide. The amendment was approved by 73 percent of voters casting ballots in the Nov. 4 election.
St. Peters along with Lake Saint Louis, O’Fallon, former Dardenne Prairie Mayor Pam Fogarty and O’Fallon Alderman Jim Pepper filed the suit last December challenging the ban. The Missouri Municipal League also lent its support to the cities.
The automated cameras take pictures of vehicles that run red stop lights and violators are assessed fines of $110 or more per violation. St. Peters was the only municipality in the county using red-light cameras and even if the cities won their case the likelihood of the cameras returning was remote. Since last year, St. Peters has moved away from using red-light cameras.
The city’s contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., the Arizona-based company that provides the cameras, was terminated on July 1. The use of the cameras has been suspended since Sept. 1, 2014 when the cameras were turned off. And city officials said the cameras would not return.
City officials had said that they wanted the 2014 election result voided because they question the county government’s authority over municipal laws. “It’s not about red-light cameras, we don’t have the intention of having them and we have never had them,” said Lake Saint Louis Mayor Kathy Schweikert in March. The same sentiment was repeated by Lake Saint Louis Alderman Mike Potter (Ward 1) at the city’s board meeting on Nov. 16.
“This is a victory for the voters of St. Charles County,” said County Executive Steve Ehlmann in a news release after the ruling. Ehlmann said the state constitution does not allow the county to tell municipalities what to do regarding red-light cameras but it does allow voters in a charter county tell them what to do.
He also noted that the Missouri General Assembly worked on red-light cameras for three or four years without giving direction to what cities could and could not do before the amendment was placed on the ballot.
“The council and the people stepped in and took action, and the 72 percent vote in favor of the charter amendment made it clear that this is what the people wanted,” Ehlmann said.