Residents' opposition to Iowa City red-light cameras now considered an initiative


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The opposition of two Iowa City citizens to the planned red light traffic cameras is about more than just privacy. For Aleksey Gurtovoy and Martha Hampel, the process they’ve gone through is about protecting democratic processes for everyone.

The pair filed an affidavit to commence initiative or referendum proceedings repealing the city’s red-light cameras ordinance on June 22, but it faced opposition from Iowa City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes, who said the affidavit was filed too late to be considered as a referendum.  After a legal process, the affidavit was considered an initiative as of Oct. 5, giving the pair more time to proceed.

The two citizens originally opposed the city ordinance, adopted during a Feb. 21 City Council meeting on a 4-3 vote —based on the grounds that traffic cameras violated civil liberties, privacy of citizens, and were not effective in preventing traffic violations.

At the time, Dilkes said the initiative would not be considered by the council because it was not  “ … within 60 days after final adoption of the measure sought to be reconsidered or subsequently at any time more than two years after such final adoption,” according to city documents.

Hampel said it was at that point that Dilkes advised the pair to seek independent legal counsel.

“I used to think the city attorney represented the people of Iowa City,” Hampel said. “But she really just speaks for the city.”

Then the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa stepped in.

“We heard about the city attorney’s opinion on the initiative, and we disagreed,” said Randall Wilson, legal director of the Iowa chapter of the ACLU. “In addition to being opposed to traffic cameras, we support citizens’ right to propose appeals of laws on the ballot.”

After the ACLU took up Hampel and Gurtovoy’s arguments, the city decided to allow them to proceed with the affidavit, classifying it as an initiative rather than a referendum. Wilson said this gives the pair more flexibility.

“Now, [Hampel and Gurtovoy] have to gather signatures, and the council will decide whether to go with their initiative or not,” he said.

In a statement emailed to The Daily Iowan, Dilkes said her opinion on the initiative had not changed since she authorized the measure and that Hampel and Gurtovoy were free to move on with the initiative, though no decision would be made by the Iowa City City Council “at this juncture.”

For the pair of citizens, it was a victory.

“We’re very happy that Dilkes is allowing us to go forward with the initiative,” Hampel said. “It was an excellent decision on her part.”

Gurtovoy said the decision was long overdue.

“The city charter is clear and unambiguous,” Gurtovoy said. “The validation that we are right to do what we wanted to do allows us to move forward.”

Now, the pair will attempt to make a petition to present to the City Council. Hampel said they need around 2,500 valid signatures on their petition. However, Hampel said the process isn’t that simple.

“The city tends to find many signatures invalid,” she said. “If someone writes illegibly, or a nickname, it can be invalidated.”

For that reason, Hampel and Gurtovoy are shooting much larger. While Gurtovoy didn’t want to pin down a number, Hampel said she was looking somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 signatures.

“It’ll be lots of work, but we feel there’s enough opposition to get that many,” Hampel said.
Gurtovoy had a similar view.

“We believe we can do it,” Gurtovoy said. “The majority of people we’ve talked to support what we’re doing. Now, it’s just about doing the legwork.”

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