As far as city hall meetings go, yesterday's was raucous. Members of the National Black United Front, Houston Ministers Against Crime, city council hopefuls, and Citizens Against Red Light Cameras filled the hall to standing-room-only capacity to complain to Mayor Annise Parker about red-light cameras. Thirty-six people signed up to speak their piece.
It only took the first speaker to rouse the constituents to angry whoops and jeers at Parker, who sternly demanded that the audience show support for a speaker only by standing up silently. The rest of the meeting was a continuous cycle of standing.
Many, such as Citizens Against Red Light Cameras, headed by attorney Paul Kubosh, believe that red-light cameras actually make the roads less safe. But safety was hardly mentioned yesterday. The meeting centered on last November's vote -- one in which citizens overwhelmingly voted the cameras off -- that's being ignored. The cameras are now back on because American Traffic Solutions (ATS) claimed that the city would owe it $20 million to get out of the contract early.
At the meeting, the overwhelming sentiment was anger that the will of the people was not being upheld. Several African-American speakers warned that ignoring the results of a vote is the quickest way to discourage voting at all. Some who had voted to keep the cameras even came out to complain, saying that to throw away an election's results is unconscionable.
"This is no longer a legal issue," said Paul Kubosh. "This is a political issue." He and others claimed that the entire red-light camera operation is a moneymaking scheme. "The $20 million figure comes straight from ATS; it does not come from anywhere else," said Kubosh. "The mayor has adopted the threat as being fact. It is fiction."
Kubosh and his brother, Randy Kubosh, asked to hear where each council member stood on the issue. "If the council members are silent and won't say whether they're for or against, I recommend we vote against every elected official who's running next November," said Randy Kubosh, to a loud standing ovation quickly silenced by the mayor.
From the other side of the room, the meeting was mostly a silent one. Only councilmembers Jolanda Jones and C.O. Bradford made their positions known. Both are against turning back on the red-light cameras. "I believe that the will of the people should always prevail," Jones said.
During the meeting, Parker maintained a grim smile, though some called for her impeachment. "Oh, and y'all were so nice when I unilaterally turned them off," she said at one point.
Only three of the 36 speakers were pro-camera. Two worked for ATS, and one was a woman, Yolanda Macias, who lost her son to a red-light runner in a traffic accident.
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Though everyone was sympathetic to Macias, the city spoke loudly and clearly. The cameras need to go.
"We have a lot of quiet council members here today. But come fall, you're all in our neighborhoods asking for our vote," said Travis McGee, a local activist in Sunnyside Gardens. "We have traffic lights in our area that don't work."