The Red-Light Camera Circus

Step right up, folks: Passion, deceit, money, lots of money, double dealing and a mayor with more flip-flops in her than a Cirque du Soleil acrobat!

Schirmbeck had had enough. He started circulating a petition in September 2009 for a referendum to repeal the ordinance authorizing red-light cameras. Schirmbeck learned that once cities begin circulating petitions to end the cameras, ATS has a habit of buying Web domains called "Keep Insert-City-Here Safe" and creating cookie-cutter Web sites that look like community-led, grassroots campaign rallying for the cameras. So Schirmbeck bought KeepBaytownSafe.com and used it for his own group, Stop Baytown Red Light Cameras.

That's when Andy Taylor started showing up at city council meetings with his suit and briefcase, claiming that Schirmbeck's petition was illegal and lamenting the dilution of the minority vote. Scared, the council sided with Taylor and refused to put it on the ballot, so Schirmbeck circulated a new petition. This time, he proposed a new ordinance: That the city couldn't issue a camera ticket unless a police officer was present at the violation. The city accepted it, and the lawsuits from ATS came pouring in. According to a letter from Schirmbeck's attorney, Taylor even asked Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos to open a criminal investigation against Schirmbeck for possible perjury. Schirmbeck was scared. He'd never been in trouble with the law before. So when Baytown City Attorney Ignacio Ramirez called him up with an ostensible solution, he said he listened. "'You committed perjury; it's a false affidavit,'" Schirmbeck remembers Ramirez telling him. "'But if you want to come in and do a clarifying affidavit...then you might be okay.'" Ramirez did not return a request for comment.

Schirmbeck called his lawyer, who advised him that two conflicting affidavits equaled perjury. He signed nothing, and the district attorney's office didn't touch the case.

Schirmbeck's one regret, he said, was not buying KeepHoustonSafe.com.
_____________________

Mayor Parker and much of Houston's political elite believed that Proposition 3, which would allow for the continuation of red-light cameras, was headed for victory.

They had the money. Keep Houston Safe netted $1.5 million in total political contributions in 2010, according to the organization's campaign finance report. (By the way, ATS contributed $1.46 million of that total. Andy Taylor & Associates gave $34,362.) The $108,363 that Citizens Against Red Light Cameras scrounged looked laughable in comparison.

They had the name. Though Keep Houston Safe was a political action committee formed to defeat "an untimely referendum relating to the use of red-light cameras," as the group's campaign finance report states, it bears the same name as Keep Houston SAFE, a citywide public safety campaign formed in 2007 by the Houston Police Department advocating for the reduction of all crime. Whether intentionally or not, the identical names conveniently blurred the lines between ATS and HPD.

And they had the support. A quick glimpse at Keep Houston Safe's "supporters" page is a Who's Who of political power. From Mayor Parker to more than half of city council members to the Police Officers League, Houston's major players clearly agreed on which side to support. It even appeared that they had the black vote. A whole column is dedicated to the names of African-American ministers who support Keep Houston Safe.

Pastor James Nash of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church is one of the eight reverends listed as supporters. Nash, a Sunnyside native, speaks with grandfatherly, unrushed speech. Some weekends, Nash drives a bus full of kids to Austin, just to encourage them to vote and participate in government.

Nash says he remembers Assistant Police Chief Vicki King calling him when the Keep Houston Safe campaign was underway. "She said, 'Pastor Nash, you know we got this vote coming up, are you with us? It's about crime in this city, we want to make sure our city's safe.'" He told King that if the cameras were to prevent crime, he'd vote for them. After all, King and Nash, who is the secretary of Houston Ministers Against Crime, had worked together under HPD's Keep Houston SAFE program in the past.

The minister thought the cameras would monitor neighborhoods to catch criminals, like those speeding off in crime getaways. Nash said that King and the other city officials who called him never properly explained the cameras. "If you had told me that these cameras are going to be put in place for people running red lights...to me, that's not security from crime," Nash said. "I look at crime as somebody being robbed, somebody being raped, some horrific thing. Not somebody running a red light. Every day I see people run red lights."

Nash, who now says he was misled, made up his mind to vote for the cameras. The rest of Houston Ministers Against Crime were more cynical, Nash said — especially once Kubosh and company arrived. One of the Kuboshes' favorite lines was this: If this is about safety, why aren't these cameras in black neighborhoods?

Michael Kubosh loved the angle. "Yeah, I mean, you don't love the minorities?" he said, feigning surprise and remembering his speech in front of city council. "There's none on Navigation, there's none on MLK Boulevard...you don't love to save the lives of little black children too and little Spanish children? What's the matter with you?"

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
49 comments
Shorty
Shorty

How did we get here you ask? You voted Anise Parker into office. I think it's about time she exits the same way she came in. Tolerated and not celebrated. Every good thing fmr Mayor Bill White put into effect she's systematically gotten rid of. Safe tow now carries a $50 charge for towing services $30 for road side assistance. It was good in a pinch just to tow from the freeway to a safe spot while waiting on AAA or whomever else you pay on an annual basis. Laying off city workers, cutting down on most summer programs and community facilities all in the name of saving money. Question: Why does the city suddenly need all this money that wasn't needed when Bill White was in office? Has our expenses grown exponentially since she's gotten in office? Did Bill White mislead us? She isn't helping matters on the unemployment front either. And her piss poor attitude and walking out of meetings because something is said that upsets her is totally unprofessional and unacceptable.

Jkubica2001
Jkubica2001

Wonderful story about how dirty the dealings get in Houston City Hall - and about how the people can win in the end

Jcwconsult
Jcwconsult

Red light cameras were always about money, not safety. Simply adding about 1 second to the yellow intervals will almost always reduce violations by MORE than a ticket camera program. And, obviously, people who stop for red lights do not cause angle or t-bone crashes in the intersections. Some cities, including Houston, flatly refuse to lengthen the yellows because camera revenue becomes more important than safety. Now that the cameras are gone, however, the city still refuses to lengthen the yellows. Perhaps they are afraid the probable huge drop in the violation rate would expose the original smokescreen that the cameras were about safety. That was never the case. The science is on our website. James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, www.motorists.org, Ann Arbor, MI (frequent visitor to Texas for extended stays)

Walk88
Walk88

Mayor Parker is doing a great job in a bad economy. It's understandable why red-light camera revenue would be very desirable. I say if you run a red light, you should be fined. Tweaking the timing on the yellow lights is definately wrong and I doubt Mayor Parker had anything to do with that. I think it's great to have a sensible mayor with a conscious!

Rob J Corallo
Rob J Corallo

Kubosh and his team fought the good fight for the right reasons. Elect Fernando Herrera for mayor!!!

Winston Blake
Winston Blake

more taxes = more police = more of a police state

"just say no" to more fascism

Brent Jatko
Brent Jatko

Breaches of contract cost money......fining bad drivers for their traffic infractions creates badly needed wealth for city coffers. If you want to drive irresponsibly, you should be hunted down & fined accordingly. People opposed to traffic safety are dangerous and driven by some fear of cameras recording them engaging in dangerous driving practices.

Maria
Maria

With all the challenges we have...another grave error on Annise's corner :(

Rhonda Omberg
Rhonda Omberg

A determined minority can do what a bloated government cannot. Congratulations to Michael and Paul for fighting the good fight and remaining vigilant. ATS is a sham company; they remind me of the guy who tried to sell monorail to Springfield in that episode of "The Simpsons".

James Partsch-Galvan
James Partsch-Galvan

A Mayor with more flip-flops in her than a Cirque du Soleil acrobat !!! lol *+* Galvanize and throw the bums out on November 8, 2011. Vote for the Revolution in Houston! Vote James Partsch-Galvan for Houston City Council At-Large Position #1. Send the corrupt carpetbaggers like Councilmember Costello (The Father of the $8 Billion Dollar Rain Tax) back to where they came from. We don't want them here in Houston! It's time to take back our city from the crook$ who have taken over Houston City Hall. (832)245-6319 www.mayorgalvan.com

Mr. Blonde
Mr. Blonde

I don't live in Houston, thankfully, but must deal with Houston daily. I am thankful for folks like the Kuboshes who help keep out-of-control politicians like Annise Parker down. I will be thankful for the voters of Houston when they kick Parker out of office in November.

Van Hcarlc
Van Hcarlc

A brief description of the recently released Walden report which purports to show that red light cameras reduces accidents can be found here.

http://tti.tamu.edu/2011/08/01...

I submitted the following comment for posting at this website on Monday 9/12/2011, but it is apparently being withheld by the site master for “moderation”.

“The plural "researchers” in the above statement is misleading. Dr. Walden is the sole investigator for this report and it was not submitted for internal review by TTI-CTS. Dr. Walden's bias in favor of red light cameras is evident beginning on page 11, paragraph 2 of the report. He attributes most red light violations to conscious decisions. My research documents that typically 92% of RLC citations are accounted for by unintentional straight-through and left turn violations of less than one second into the red and by rolling stop violations for right turns on red. These are largely insignificant factors in causing accidents, but they are great generators of revenue for the RLC contractor, local jurisdictions and the state of Texas. I am preparing a paragraph by paragraph rebuttal to this misleading report by Dr. Walden and will make it available to all concerned in due course. It will show that Dr. Walden’s claim of accident reduction attributed to RLCs is bogus.”

Gundriver
Gundriver

Time to point the high powered pellet guns at the red light cameras

bthomas
bthomas

Amen. Time for a revolution?! Revolutionaries? Anyone? oh no, we all work like mules all day long, pay taxes and fines and obey most of the laws, come home dogtired and want our pizza and redbox... f a revolution, lets just live for now... apathy is the problem my friend. apathy. For this reason, I'm all about getting filthy rich, cuz that to me seems like the only way one can have any say in anything. $ = Vote.

bthomas
bthomas

To the writer of this article. WHO THE HECK READS 7 PAGES?! seriously? If you were gonna change anyone's opinion to your favor you should have done it in the first page. I mean, I'm all against the cameras and for the cause, but SERIOUSLY? 7 pages? This is becoming a bad trend in journalism. Good thing you dont sign up to speak publicly cuz it would be a snooze fest

Chuck
Chuck

ThatGuy....who's payroll are you on Parkers or ATS? Got to be one or the other. Maybe you're working both sides of the fence???

ThatGuy
ThatGuy

While painting the Kuboshes as heroes of the people, you barely touched on the obvious conflict of interest here. They holler about cameras being about revenue, when opposition to the cameras is 100% about their own self interest

With cameras, HPD could move away from cops issuing red light tickets. Cameras affected the bottom line of Kubosh law firm. If they were criminal offense, rather than civil, I doubt you'd see them ever getting involved in this.

At this point, it's about the attention, keep posting fawning articles about these two right wing extremists trying to get themselves paid.

Tommmm14
Tommmm14

Paul....you are definitely Da Man. Make this pig sweat and squeal. Don't EVER let up. You have her on the ropes and she's about to fall. Craig....you almost captured the true Parker in your drawing. Add about 15 more pounds around her butt...15 pounds on each cheek, about 15 pounds on each thunder thigh, and about 15 more pounds on her belly and you'll have her perfect. Love the cancles you have on her....you nailed it there dude!!! Dress her up, put lipstick and pearls on her, but a pig, is a pig, is a pig, is a pig...

Tap812
Tap812

It's just unfortunate that Parker doesn't have a serious opponent. She's a disaster and a bully.

Joseph McReynolds
Joseph McReynolds

Great article. It's inspiring that we still live in a free country where individual citizens can make a difference. Hooray for the Kubosh family!

Gary Packwood
Gary Packwood

Red light cameras were an experiment to see if the public would approve of cameras as part of law enforcement traffic control strategy.

If so, the cameras would then to be rolled-out to track speeders on streets and highways.

Red light cameras were just child's play compared to the revenue possibilities of cameras to catch those who speed.

But as everyone has noted here, such camera do conflict with the U.S. Constitution which is shall we say, vigorously opposed to any form of big brother watching over citizens.

Interesting that City Council wanted to try-out those cameras here in Houston when anything even remotely related to Big Brother goes directly into the H-Town recycle bin.

Cfssgroup
Cfssgroup

Yea, The ATS guy doesn't really care about losing the program in Houston, that's why they did all of their underhanded tacticts and spend millions on lawyers to fight it and on TV ads trying to convince people it wasn't about the money.

Don'tVote,ItOnlyEncouragesThem
Don'tVote,ItOnlyEncouragesThem

I know it shouldn't be, but it is always amazing to see a person who has taken the role of leader , such as the mayor, who really doesn't care about doing the right thing. To be so focused on bringing in revenues and blatantly not trying to make intersections safer is unconscionable. Then to lie through her teeth and try to make people believe that it really is about safety is simply icing on the cake. It is why people are so fed up with all politicians in the country. I believe that most people are good people and if put in the role of political leadership would strive to do the right thing. However, those people who run for office are not most people. We tend to imagine most people are like ourselves, and when we come to the realization that politicians are not, we are always rudely reminded that we have to keep a close eye on them and their intentions. Data shows that lengthening the yellow light period is a more effective means to reduce accidents. However, places like San Diego actually shortened them. Clearly, there was no intent to make intersections safer. In our situation in Houston, the drive to make intersections safer should have began with proper analysis of what causes accidents and how different inputs affect those results. We would have found that most serious red light accidents, which include significant injuries and deaths actually are a direct result of drunk driving. No red light camera is going to stop a drunk who doesn't have the ability to recognize and properly react to a red light. Second, we would have seen that by simply increasing the yellow light length, there is a significant decrease in all other accidents - much more than the false assertions that concern over a ticket prevents wrecks - and the data supports it. I applaud those people who have stood up to this idiocy and thank them for helping the rest of us out.

CamLover
CamLover

Amazing to me the citizens voted against the red light cameras. I know friends, who have brains, who voted against the red light cams. They got a ticket and were angry. I would say "yeah, but you ran a red light". Anyone who reads the research on red light cams knows they can save lives. The issue is the length of the yellow lights. Shorten them and the city collects more fines. Make the yellow light longer and accidents go down, and of course so does the city revenue. It should be the responsibility of our city officials to be sure the lights are set at the proper timing. If you get hit by a run light runner and you or your children end up in the hospital, you can blame those who voted against the cameras

David Whitten
David Whitten

Bend over and take it. Our politicians have been bought & sold. Good luck beating your head against the wall.

ceccareb
ceccareb

@Walk88 By federal standard, the yellow light timing always forces drivers to run red light for certain common driving scenarios.   Cities do not have to tweak the yellow to rake in the money.    They just have to exploit what is already present.

Traffic engineers specifically design the yellow light so that people run red lights regularly.   Engineers induce at every signalized intersection a systematic error called a dilemma zone.   It is a region on the road where if you so happen to be in when the light turns yellow, you will either not know whether to stop or go with 100% certainty or there will be no solution at all:  you will be forced to run the red light.   

This is all because the federal standard sets a yellow light to half the time it takes a driver to stop.   You read that correctly.   Half the time.   

Jkubica2001
Jkubica2001

Letting crooks like ATS buy their way into contracts with greedy politicians to let them feed on the people - cost even more!

Winston Blake
Winston Blake

you want to hire more police because you are a fascist

Chequeta
Chequeta

You are a wack job James Partsch-Galvan, one only has to look at your web site to know it.

ThatGuy
ThatGuy

So, what is it that Parker has done that is other control? I suspect it's only that she's not Republican, though she has some severely Republican tendencies that annoy me (cutting budgets, laying off employees, shutting down pools etc..), she doesn't have the label which is oddly necessary in this day and age.

maria
maria

It works so well, and folks are so happy about it that the system has been removed from many cities...one by one :)

Txengr
Txengr

bthomas, I must disagree. Lack of attention span or concern for the whole story is why so many are so often misinformed. I applaud Mandy Oaklander for her devotion to her craft since the reality is that the bad trend in journalism is that there are far fewer complete stories being told. If you want incomplete, skewed, uninspired, and uninspiring "journalism", might I suggest Fox News or chron.com?

callmerog
callmerog

@bthomas: Not all journallists write their articles with an intention of swaying people's perceptions one way or another. Whether you're a tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist who thinks the cameras are all about revenue; or whether you're a safety-addled Parker supporter with blinders on... this article does a TREMENDOUS job of filling in lots of the behind-the-scenes blanks.

HeatherMella
HeatherMella

@bthomas needs a short read so that he can make time to watch Jerry Springer (mindless television) in the morning.

ThatGuy
ThatGuy

Maybe I'm just a guy who thinks that the Kubosh Bros and ATS are two sides of the same coin. Both are just protecting their monetary interest.

Grandstanding on this issue is ridiculous considering what issues this city is facing. Dropping tax revenues, growing population, huge fire risk at our urban forests, water shortages, drought.

Maybe her time would be better spent exploring what takes so long to fix the water leaks throughout the city, instead of this useless circus. It's essentially the Gay Marriage of local politics, doesn't matter but fires people up.

Owlvis
Owlvis

The traffic enforcement officer just move down the street to write more tickets. They are not transferred to homicide or burglary. Yours is an empty argument and lack merit.

Fng1234
Fng1234

Hmmmm, I wonder if you work for ATS.

Samlgsk
Samlgsk

Your last name is Taylor, isn't it? Accidents will happen even if there is a red light camera just as sure as murder will happen even with a death penalty. Wait till you get a ticket for doing something legal such as making a right turn on a red light. By the way, how much did ATS paid you to write this comment on this board? Did you charge them by the hour?

Christopher Bingham
Christopher Bingham

Is your home address in AZ, CamLover? Up here in WA state, and many other places, you guys have been caught spoofing so much, that it's essentially impossible to trust any cam supporter as being anyone other than a paid employee of ATS.

See the Everett, WA Herald http://www.heraldnet.com/artic...

The bottom line is that people are not robots, and we shouldn't have extortionist, parasitic companies using the law to make profits off of people's mistakes.

If the cameras really WORKED, for the purpose of stopping people from running red lights they'd go out of business. But the whole point is to cash in on people's generally unintentional mistakes.

If you want to decrease dealy t-bone accidients, replace stoplights altogether with roundabouts. But that doesn't make any profit.

chef504
chef504

You can't be serious. I have witnessed far more situations turn almost deadly because of drivers being distracted by; eating, texting, talking, or putting make-up on. Some of those activities are illegal also. Should the city find some company to install cameras in everyones car, and flash random pictures to make sure all laws are be followed. They could then sell this invasion as, a way to make roads safer. A way to save our children and elderly. A way to make sure more people will be alive. Why stop there with cameras? Hows about we go back to the old way. Cops pull folks over tickets are issued. People get into fender benders and life moves forward. Granted a little slower, but it's far better than some eye in the sky.

Cfssgroup
Cfssgroup

I read the research on the cameras and I know they don't save lives. That's BS. Where was your concern for people getting sent to the hospital from the accidents when the cameras were up?

Citizen
Citizen

Agreed, this is an informative piece of journalism.

Jkl
Jkl

welll if he likes Jerry Springer, he will love the Houston Press, same thing.

Chuck
Chuck

Sure looks like it. Bet you he does...

Txengr
Txengr

OH! A fan of roundabouts! Since having the opportunity to live and drive in England for six months, I became a fan of roundabouts. The logic, I believe, is that a continuous flow is a far more efficient process than the stop-n-start method traffic lights enforce. The downside is, for areas with heavy pedestrian traffic, rush-hour traffic can make it impossible for people on foot to cross a roundabout intersection. Roundabouts are better suited for places with minimal pedestrian traffic. There, they work great!

Overall, the analysis that the motivation for revenue (ATS and CoH) is the driving force here is correct, I believe. If the data suggest that lengthening the yellow by 1 second reduces red-light violations by half, and assuming that re-programming the lights to do this costs very little, then the traffic engineers are undoubtedly being ignored in the whole discussion - because it generates no income for the city or ATS. It amounts to another clever tax on our fallibility.TXENGR

ThatGuy
ThatGuy

It would be nice to work for ATS, I probably would get paid better.

I just think it's shoddy journalism. Explore the avenue of what Kubosh Bros. have to gain. Explore what their actual opposition to this was before they were made civil fines. It seems as if they're fine with them so long as they are criminal fines, because they can make some money off of it.

These aren't saviors of the people fighting the big bad government. It's a guy fighting to protect a stream of income.

 
Houston Concert Tickets
Loading...