City Council supports reinstatement of New Orleans red-light camera system

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Cameras like these will again be activated to identify and ticket red-light runners if the council approves an ordianance Thursday.

By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer

Update: The council voted today 6-1 in favor of the cameras. Councilman Jon Johnson was the lone dissent. He complained at length about a camera on Read Boulevard in the eastern New Orleans, in his district. He said the camera isn’t properly marked and that he’s received hundreds of constituent complaints about it. He said even if it deserves to be there, it shouldn’t operate around the clock.

All seven New Orleans City Council members are likely to vote Thursday to reinstate the city’s controversial traffic cameras.

The Lens and our partners at Fox8 discussed the upcoming vote with each member over the past two days. Six said they would vote in favor of the cameras, while Council President Arnie Fielkow said he is supportive of the idea but wants to consider input before voting.

An ordinance is before the council that will move the red-light and speed cameras under the purview of the New Orleans Police Department, rather than the Public Works Department, where it is now.

The use of the cameras was suspended last week after the state Supreme Court declined to hear the city’s appeal of a lower court ruling that said the City Charter allows only the police department to enforce traffic regulations.

Cameras like these will again be activated to identify and ticket red-light runners if the council approves an ordianance Thursday. Photo By Matt Davis

Attorney Ed Washington filed a lawsuit against the use of cameras in September, on behalf of his wife and three others.

Civil Court Judge Paulette Irons sided with Washington on Oct. 1. and banned the city from using the cameras to issue more tickets.

However, the Supreme Court let the city use the cameras while the city drafted its appeal.

The city argued in its appeal to the Supreme Court that Irons had misread the city’s Home Rule Charter because there is a line letting the mayor assign new duties to the Public Works Department. Also, not having traffic-enforcement cameras “immediately puts at risk the lives of the public,” City Attorney Nanette Jolivette Brown wrote.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the city’s appeal on Oct. 27, forcing the city to stop issuing tickets based on the cameras.

But the city already had been drafting a workaround.

Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson filed an ordinance two weeks ago seeking to place the traffic cameras under the New Orleans Police Department’s jurisdiction.

That means Washington’s complaint would no longer be valid, and the city could start issuing traffic tickets once again.

Council members had different reactions, though most have reached the conclusion of voting for the move. The council meeting begins at 10 a.m. in council chambers in City Hall.

“I think this is about giving the citizens due process,” councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said. “I’d be really happy if we can get a camera in front of the car, and behind the car, so we can make sure the person driving the car is the person who gets the ticket.”

Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer even copped to getting a ticket herself.

“I’m supportive,” Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said. “Do I like it? No. Have I been caught? Yes. But I think this is the best thing for public safety.”

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