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Published: Friday, June 24, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Monroe officials criticized for actions to scuttle vote on traffic cameras

MONROE -- Ask people around town, and many will tell you the City Council made the wrong decision by deciding to go to court to block a vote on traffic-enforcement cameras.
For some, the unanimous decision Tuesday signals the City Council is not listening.
"The citizens did the right thing. That the council denied their constitutional right is horrible," said Julie Martinoli, who has lived in Monroe for a dozen years and was one of the 2,100 people who signed the petition.
Council members by resolution decided Monroe Initiative No. 1 was invalid. They plan to seek a judge's approval to keep the measure off the ballot.
The initiative 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 city sent the council's resolution to the Snohomish County Auditor's Office on Thursday. Meanwhile, legal paperwork is being drawn up seeking a Snohomish County Superior Court judge's ruling on the validity of the initiative, City Administrator Gene Brazel said.
County elections officials last week determined the initiative had at least 1,009 valid signatures from Monroe voters, surpassing the required number. The auditor's office stopped counting signatures once the required number was reached.
Bill Sanderson has lived in Monroe for more than 25 years. He declined to sign the camera initiative when approached by its sponsors, an activist group who call themselves Seeds of Liberty. State initiative king Tim Eyman has been helping the group's effort.
Sanderson said he favors traffic enforcement cameras, but believes the council has made a big mistake.
"It should go out to the voters," he said.
Douglas Whisennand, a carpenter who lives just outside city limits, said the council's decision seems to have more to do with money and control.
"The city government is not doing what the people want," he said.
Traffic-enforcement cameras are supported by some in Monroe, in part because the city has installed some in school zones, said Kim Probst, general operations manager for the Monroe Chamber of Commerce.
"The red-light cameras are protecting our kids" from speeders, she said.
She declined to discuss the initiative and the council's action this week. Probst said she didn't know enough.
City officials defended their decision, arguing they are following state law. They note the city is also bound by a contract signed in 2009 with the camera company, Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems. The contract runs until 2013.
Council members Tuesday said that's when people in Monroe should have an advisory vote on whether the camera contract should be renewed.
There are doubts about the legality of the initiative, and it would be wrong to risk Monroe moving forward with a vote on a measure that could be determined invalid, Councilman Tom Williams said.
"I am not willing to risk Monroe taxpayer money on something that may not be legal, and I am suspect of people from outside our city demanding our taxpayers take risks that they are unwilling to take and have no exposure to," he said in an email. "If it is determined to be legal then I will vote to put it on the ballot, it's as simple as that."
Williams said he is not in favor of the traffic enforcement cameras and would have supported the initiative, but backers insisted on what he called "stringent language" that he felt wouldn't work for Monroe.
The initiative in Monroe mirrored language in a similar measure that was approved last year by a 71 percent margin in Mukilteo, spearheaded by Eyman in his hometown. Like Monroe, Mukilteo also had signed a contract with a traffic camera company, although the devices weren't being used to issue tickets.
Lawyers for the camera company, insisting they were representing a citizens group, tried to block the Mukilteo vote, arguing that the initiative illegally undermined legislative decisions. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Michael Downes ruled, however, that the legal challenge was insufficient to trump voters being given a chance to weigh in on the measure.
Monroe officials emphasize that they don't live in Mukilteo.
They say Monroe's situation is more similar to Wenatchee's, where a Chelan County judge recently ruled a vote on cameras there would constitute an invalid referendum. Like Monroe, the cameras are already up in Wenatchee.
The state Supreme Court last month heard arguments about the legality of the Mukilteo vote. It is unclear when the court will announce its ruling.
Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@heraldnet.com.

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