Iowa City red-light-camera petition gets signatures, forces city action

BY NICK HASSETT | MAY 10, 2013 5:00 AM

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It was arduous work for two Iowa City residents, collecting more than 4,000 signatures over the winter and into the spring on a petition against autonomous traffic cameras.

But now that City Clerk Marian Karr has verified the required number of signatures on the petition, petitioners are glad to see the effort isn’t going to waste.

“We’re very excited about that,” Aleksey Gurtovoy, one of the petitioners, said about the news. “I’m glad to have it out of the way; we were sure we would [get the required number] all along, but it was still a lot of hard work.”

Gurtovoy and Martha Hampel from the group Stop Big Brother first submitted their petition, which proposes a measure to ban red-light traffic cameras and other unmanned surveillance devices such as drones in Iowa City, in April. The petition was a response to the city’s Automated Traffic Enforcement ordinance, originally passed in February 2012, which it aims to repeal.

At the time, the petition contained 3,322 signatures.

On April 15, Karr confirmed only 2,106 to be valid, falling short of the 2,500 required to force city action on the measure. That gave the group 15 days to collect the rest of the required signatures.

“We’re going to work harder and more diligently,” Hampel said previously. “We have to be positive they are registered at the address they wrote on the petition.”

The group submitted a supplemental petition on April 30 containing 1,235 signatures. Karr confirmed a portion of the signatures on Thursday, enough to send the total over the 2,500 mark.
Gurtovoy said he was glad city staff wasn’t trying to deny the petition.

“We’re pleased the city is not working against the initiative,” he said. “They’re acknowledging the validity of this.”

City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes sent a memo to the City Council outlining the details of the ordinance proposed by the petition. The City Charter gives the council 60 days to consider the measure. If the council fails to adopt the proposed measure — or  a measure similar in nature — the proposal will go to the voters.

Dilkes said the provision about a similar measure has more to do with the wording of the ordinance.

“It’s clarifications of ambiguous language in the ordinance; there’s no change in substance,” she said.
Dilkes recommended the council repeal the Automated Traffic Enforcement ordinance, but not for legal reasons.

“[Red-light camera proposals] are stagnant at this point anyway,” she said. “The intersections where we would use them are state controlled, and they are currently not using cameras.”

Dilkes also recommended the city adopt an ordinance similar in substance to the proposed initiative rather than let the measure go to the ballot.

However, those aren’t the council’s only options. The council could choose to leave the Automated Traffic Enforcement ordinance in place and adopt certain parts of the group’s petition to fulfill the requirements of the charter.

Iowa City city councilors were unable to be reached for comment Thursday evening.

As for what route he would prefer, Gurtovoy said he wasn’t sure whether Stop Big Brother’s goals would be better served through the council or a direct vote.

“There are pros and cons to either approach,” he said. “The council has to adopt something similar in substance, so there’s some leeway there; the question is how much leeway and how similar the ordinance would be.”

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