Brooksville becomes center of epic battle between trio of red light camera interests

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One of Florida’s smallest cities is the setting of a heated conflict between three Red Light Camera interests — one being the state’s leading RLC provider – over the use of the controversial devices.

American Traffic Solutions confirmed its role in the fight to block Brooksville’s upcoming RLC referendum. The city is also trying to stop the referendum, claiming it encroaches upon the city council’s legal powers.

Although ATS and the City of Brooksville are working towards the same goal, they are not exactly friendly, the city objects to the intervention from an industry-backed group.

Tampa law firm Carlton Fields Jorden Burt is behind a new pro-RLC group, “Keep Florida Roads Safe,” which immediately filed proceedings to prevent Brooksville voters from deciding the RLC issue. The firm has represented ATS in the past but has stayed mum about any involvement from ATS.

ATS — which has spent nearly $1 million in lobbying fees in the past three years — holds the majority of the more than 70 RLC contracts in Florida, but not Brooksville’s. The company’s involvement is due to concerns that the city could set a precedent with the citizen vote.

As for “Keep Florida Roads Safe,” ATS spokesperson Charley Territo told WTSP/10 Investigates in an email that the company, “supports the coalition and its efforts to promote red-light safety cameras.” Territo would not confirm any direct association.

Carlton Fields responded to reporter Noah Pransky’s questions about the leadership and intent of “Keep Florida Roads Safe” with a prepared statement:

“It is a non-profit entity whose purpose is to ensure that decision makers at all levels of government are educated about the relationship between state and local laws governing traffic safety. Keep Florida Roads Safe supports the city of Brooksville’s position on their red-light safety camera program and stands ready to provide any assistance needed in their efforts to continue the important safety initiative.”

Representing the coalition is Texas attorney Andy Taylor, who told 10 Investigates the group is comprised of pro-RLC citizens and businesses, but could not identify if any were from the Hernando County region.

“I don’t know the addresses of the citizens – you can call the law firm (Carlton Fields) that helped me file the petition,” Taylor responded. “What I can tell you in confidence is that this organization is designed for one single purpose, and that is to keep the red light camera program going statewide because it saves lives.”

Taylor worked on other RLC “advocacy” campaigns throughout the country, with names such as:

SaferCARoads.comSaferCreoleRoads.com,SaferLouisianaRoads.comSaferNewYork.com,SaferNYRoads.com,SaferTexasRoads.comSaferTucson.comKeepIllionoisSafe.com,KeepJacksonSafe.com, KeepCaliforniaSafe.com and several others.

Keep Florida Roads Safe is suing not only Pat & Shirley Miketinac, the petition-gatherers, but also Shirley Anderson, the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections, to prevent putting a Red Light Camera vote on the county ballot.

Cliff Taylor, Anderson’s attorney, filed a motion to remove her office from the suit, Pransky notes.

“It amazes us that this small city can garner this much attention, except that we could set a precedent in Florida,” the Miketinacs said in an email to WTSP. “Just imagine if the citizens found out that they could have a say in their own government. That might set a ‘dangerous’ precedent indeed!”

For Hernando County Commissioner Jim Adkins, a former employee of the City of Brooksville, it is all about the money.

“Follow the money trail (to) find out what’s going on,” Adkins said.

Taylor, who also serves as the City of Brooksville’s general counsel, maintains the ballot language is unconstitutional since it bans future camera contracts and restricts the council’s legal powers. The Miketinacs seek to end the city’s current RLC contract with Sensys America.

Brooksville’s reputation is that of using the cameras for huge revenues, mostly through the practice of over-aggressively ticketing rolling right turns on red. Of a town with 8,000 residents, Brooksville generates millions of dollars a year from RLC fines.

A Hernando County judge told both the Miketinacs and the City on Wednesday to expect a judgement hearing October 14.

It is uncertain if the judge will allow Keep Florida Roads Safe to participate.

A trial, if necessary, would take place by December at the earliest; a special election is the only hope for Brooksville citizens to have a say on RLCs.

Pransky also reports that on Wednesday, former Florida Highway Patrol officer Paul Henry, a Red Light Camera critic filed a complaint with the state, charging Keep Florida Roads Safe is registered to 424 SW 7th St. in Miami, which is a 16-unit apartment complex with no specified apartment number.

A valid address is required, so Henry is calling to invalidate the group’s incorporation.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.