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Published: Wednesday, June 22, 2011, 9:21 p.m.

Monroe seeks to kill initiative on traffic cameras

The City Council declared a initiative legally flawed and will ask a court to block the measure from the ballot.

MONROE -- A unanimous Monroe City Council has decided to mount a legal challenge against an initiative that seeks to give voters here a chance to weigh in on traffic-enforcement cameras.
After an hour-long discussion behind closed doors Tuesday evening, the City Council by resolution declared Monroe Initiative No. 1 to be legally flawed.
The city now will seek a court order to block the measure from appearing on a ballot.
"The action done by the council has nothing to do with approving or disapproving traffic cameras," Mayor Robert Zimmerman said Wednesday morning. "The action last night regards to state law."
City administrator Gene Brazel said Monroe officials believe the traffic camera initiative improperly seeks a public vote on a question already decided by the elected council.
"The proposition is invalid because it is not subject to referendum," Brazel said. "We are looking for the judge to make a ruling on it."
Initiative supporters were disappointed. They noted the Mukilteo City Council last year opted to let voters weigh in on the cameras, even though similar legal arguments were raised.
"It is simply paternalistic and condescending to prevent a vote because of concern that the people will vote 'wrong,' " said Tim Eyman, a Mukilteo resident who organized the campaign against traffic cameras there. "We have no problem with Monroe's officials encouraging people to vote against the initiative, but we take great offense with them preventing the people from voting to 'protect' them from themselves ... It is a horrible travesty."
Monroe Initiative No. 1 -- the first initiative in city history -- seeks to remove enforcement cameras that already have been installed, and to reduce fines from camera-generated tickets. The initiative also would require voter approval before any more enforcement cameras can be installed.
The Snohomish County Auditor's Office on Friday determined there were more than enough signatures from Monroe voters for the initiative to qualify for a vote. More than 2,100 people signed petitions.
Under state law, the City Council had the option of deciding either to adopt the ordinance's restrictions on cameras as new law, or to put the measure on the ballot for voters to decide.
Instead, the City Council decided to follow a strategy similar to that used by the city of Wenatchee. There, a Chelan County judge recently ruled that a vote on the cameras would be an invalid referendum.
The same argument was raised last year regarding Mukilteo's vote, but Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Michael Downes ruled that the camera vote should not be blocked. The anti-camera measure was approved, with 71 percent voting for it.
The State Supreme Court recently heard arguments about the legality of the Mukilteo vote. In that case, and in Wenatchee, lawyers for American Traffic Solutions Inc. of Arizona pressed the challenge to the vote.
Since 2009 Monroe has had a contract with Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems, valid until 2013. It earlier approved an ordinance allowing traffic cameras but delayed having them installed while the courts decided legal questions surrounding how tickets are issued.
Last week, Monroe police began issuing $124 fines to people who roll through red lights in front of traffic enforcement cameras. Through today they also were using cameras to issue speeding tickets in school zones in front of Fryelands Elementary School on Fryelands Boulevard and Frank Wagner Elementary School on Main Street.
Eyman said he and initiative supporters implored City Council members Tuesday to recognize that the legal headaches and political ill that could come from traffic enforcement cameras. Following the council's vote, Eyman said he and others were ordered to leave, and uniformed Monroe Police officers then guarded the doors into City Hall.
The City Council is "going with a total extra-constitutional option which doesn't exist anywhere in statute, and that is to sue; to sue their citizens instead of listening to them," he said.
Zimmerman said he has no option.
"My responsibility as a mayor is to uphold the Constitution of the state of Washington as well as uphold the regulations of the city of Monroe," he said. "I have no choice. Personal opinions do not matter."
Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@heraldnet.com

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