The new motto of the City of New Orleans may as well be “do as I say, not as I do.” In a stunning and blatant show of hypocrisy and cronyism, the city has announced that it will forgive all traffic camera tickets issued to city employees to date.
Andy Kopplin, chief administrative officer to Mayor Landrieu, announced that the tickets would be forgiven because it would not be fair to go after city employees when the city had not laid out a clear policy.
Did you hear that, folks? Ignorance of the law is now an excuse. Apparently, I can claim, as an attorney, that any tickets I’ve received should be dismissed because the city never laid out a clear policy on whether lawyers can speed and run red lights with impunity. I presume that all professions can now benefit from this novel, exculpatory doctrine.
I’m kidding, of course. One of this nation’s core principles is that nobody (at least in theory) is above the law. No sane individual has ever confused working for the city with having a “get out of jail free” card. The idea that any city employee believed that the law didn’t apply to them is as odious as it is stupid.
And yet, here we are. The official position of the Landrieu Administration is that city employees are entitled to the presumption that they are exempt from certain laws.
Like any bureaucracy, the city prefers to combine bad new with good news. Thus, it should come as little surprise that the city coupled its “city employees get off scot-free, neener-neener neener” announcement with proposed reforms to the traffic camera ordinance.
In total, the city announced three proposed changes: First, speed camera tickets would only be issued when the alleged violator is going more than ten miles over the speed limit, as opposed to the current five. Secondly, the speed limit on Jackson Avenue, which has one of the most prolific speed cameras, would be raised from 25 mph to 35 mph (the default limit for divided streets).
The first proposed change is somewhat substantive. Raising the speeding threshold helps ensure that fewer innocent drivers will be ensnared by speed cameras. On the other hand, the city’s current policy is to trust American Traffic Solutions, a private Arizona corporation, implicitly. Regardless of the threshold, the city refuses to check the data. While I don’t normally believe in corporate conspiracies, I also don’t believe that law enforcement should ever rely exclusively on the word of private citizens or entities. The unverified assertions of American Traffic Solutions are no more “evidence” at ten miles over than they are at five.
The second proposed change, raising the speed limit on Jackson back to accepted norms, is a good idea but ultimately a very minor change. Traffic camera opponents like myself have also complained about yellow-light times, and yet the city ignores these pleas and throws out a token change. For example, the yellow-light time at Louisiana and St. Charles Avenue is only 3.6 seconds, well below engineering standards for two intersecting four lane streets.
The third proposed change, alas, is not a change at all. The city basically reiterates its inane proposal to shift traffic camera ticket appeals from Civil District Court (a state court) to Traffic Court (a local court) The problems with this notion are obvious.
First of all, Traffic Court is a criminal court – it does not handle civil violations. Secondly (and most importantly), alterations to the appeals process for camera tickets avoids the central issue; namely, that the city does not provide meaningful review of camera tickets in the first place. There is no reason why the citizens of New Orleans should have to go through a kangaroo court to challenge a camera ticket.
Accordingly, I put this proposal to the Landrieu Administration: Instead of the changes proposed, enact these reforms:
1) Require the city to provide record evidence as to accuracy and calibration of all camera radar devices at any hearing challenging a speed camera ticket.
2) Require all yellow light times at all camera intersections to be four seconds or longer, or in accordance with generally-accepted traffic engineering standards, whichever is longer.
3) Require the Administrative Hearing Center to create a record in every proceeding that satisfies the Louisiana Administrative Procedures Act, and require that the City pay a citizen’s court costs in any successful appeal of a camera ticket in Civil District Court within 30 days.
Do these proposed reforms sound extreme to you? Well they do to the Landrieu Administration, and that’s the problem. The city is apparently of the opinion that its members are a chosen class, and only the rest of us are fit to deal with the cold, stone-faced visage of bureaucratic indifference.
I think they’re wrong. The reality is that these reforms are being pushed by the state legislature, which has been giving the stink eye to traffic cameras for years. Just this year, Senate Bill 102 would prohibit cities and parishes from turning unpaid camera tickets to collection agencies. Senate Bill 85, proposed by Senator Martiny, would require municipalities to cease collecting fines until voters approve traffic cameras.
Hence, city officials are merely scrambling to respond from pressure from the state. Their recent change of heart is not principled, but rather a desperate ploy to maintain a revenue stream.
This is wrong and we deserve better. Revenue from enforcement should at least pay for due process. Anything less is the wellspring of corruption.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.