RLC 2.0: The hunt for Red Light Cameras: Part One
By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
For the next three days leading up to the City Council vote on Wednesday night, The Apopka Voice will be reporting on the red light camera program. Will it pass? Or will they turn the cameras off? In Part One, we begin with the bluster, hyperbole, and rhetoric that has been said at City Council meetings during public comments, and posted on social media about the upcoming RLC debate and vote.
What is it about red light cameras that drives Apopkans crazy?
Is it their anonymous judgment? Is it a sense of losing one’s right to privacy? Is it annoying fines that arrive in the mail a month later?
Despite the Apopka Police Department endorsing the red light camera program as improving public safety, and the added value of $800,000 to $900,000 landing in the Apopka budget without raising taxes, of which 70% is allegedly from out of town drivers, 76.3% of Apopka residents want to turn them off according to a recent poll taken by The Apopka Voice.
But even more than the raw numbers is the passion and opinions associated with the RLC program. It’s hard to believe the emotion these non-descript metal boxes pointed at intersections and traffic lights can create.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look back at the comments made at the July 2017 City Council meeting in which red light camera opponents filled the Council chambers and 12 angry men spoke during public comments and went on a hyperbolic speaking spree that included such gems as these:
“These red light cameras are tyranny,” said one of the speakers. “They are Darth Vader. They are judge, jury, witness, and executioner all in one.”
One man compared the program to the oppression that King George imposed on the American colonies of the 18th-century and threatened to come back like the Tea Party and adjust the oppressor’s attitudes. That’s not the modern-day Tea Party he is talking about, but the ones from the 1700’s that dressed in Mohawk Warrior disguises, boarded three vessels docked at Griffin’s Wharf in Boston, and over the course of three hours, dumped 342 chests of tea into the water, which to some degree advanced the idea of an American Revolution.
But referencing science fiction villains and American history was not the end of this red light camera tag-team tirade.
“The Red Light Camera program is the most illegal law ever passed,” said another speaker, while another said he would have the City Council arrested for violating their oath of office, and sue them for $250,000 each. “These red light cameras are anti-American, and politicians who vote for them are tyrants,” said a man with a t-shirt stating the same message.
Eventually, the 2017 City Council voted 3-2 to renew the RLC program, which brings us to 2018 and a brand new fight to turn the cameras off.
Call it RLC 2.0 – “The Hunt for Red Light Cameras”
Emotions flared in Apopka this weekend and last when the rumor began spreading that the RLC program would be decided at an August 15th City Council meeting, and then again after it was officially posted on the agenda.
Especially on social media.
Making the rounds this weekend and the previous one was a statement by former Apopka mayoral candidate Glen Chancy, who is a strong opponent of the red light camera program. He posted this on several sites over the weekend:
“The battle against Red Light Cameras in Apopka comes down to August 15th. On that date, Mayor Bryan Nelson is going to put forward a ban on Red Light Cameras for the City Council to vote on. This is going to be a tough fight. Apopka is the oldest Red Light Camera town in Florida, and the forces backing this scam will not let go easily. Mayor Nelson needs our support if we are to win this fight.”
Chancy called on residents to contact the City Council, share his post on Facebook, go to the City Council meeting, and a few other ways to get the word out, and he had hashtags that referenced the subject as well.
Also, last weekend, the community Facebook site Apopka P.R.O.U.D posted this question about the upcoming RLC vote:
“Red Light Camera vote is on August 15th. What do you think that vote will look like? Who is voting for? Who is voting against?”
A simple enough question, but as is often the case on Facebook, the thread quickly unraveled into a debate about other things.
Bob Ryan, a newly appointed member of the Apopka Planning Commission, made a candid prediction on how Apopka City Commissioner Kyle Becker’s stance on the issue would be.
“I know Mr. Becker will vote to keep the red light cameras because he likes to spend money,” Ryan posted.
Becker responded to Ryan’s accusation by reminding him of his new position with the City.
“Mr. Ryan, considering you were just appointed to the City of Apopka Planning Commission, I would hope your level of maturity would reflect the position you will now serve.”
Ryan shot back with a reference to the millage rate increase that the City Council voted 5-0 on last month.
“Mr. Becker… Just because I’m doing volunteer work for the City of Apopka doesn’t mean I can not voice my opinion. You stated in a council meeting last month that you did not see the need for Apopka to have the lowest tax rate in Orange County. That leaves me to believe you want to raise our taxes again.”
Ryan’s accusation is an interesting one because Becker is on the record as being perhaps the most vocal opponent of red light cameras both on the campaign trail in 2016, and in the City Council discussions/votes of 2017. Prior to voting against the program, Becker said this to the Council during the discussion:
“First let me say thanks to (APD) Chief (Michael) McKinley, Captain Fernandez and the entire APD staff for putting together the data we received,” he said. “Obviously, it helps us make a more objective decision when we’re thinking about those things. When I started thinking about this, I asked myself what is the point of the program… and Captain Fernandez said it several times – it’s about reducing violations. But if we look at 2015 over 2014 in terms of increased traffic, the data shows that traffic increased 8.75%, with a 37% increase in violations. 2016 over 2015 there was a 0.9% increase in traffic with a 3.9% increase in violations. So the point I’m trying to make is that even with increased traffic volume we’re still outpacing that in violations, so we can’t draw a direct line to increased traffic as contributing to that problem.”
Last year Apopka resident Barb Zakszeswki wrote an editorial on her barbzack blog that was republished this weekend that compares the RLC program presentation given by APD Deputy Chief Randy Fernandez to “smoke and mirrors” and the RLC program itself to “Big Brother”. In her blog, she wrote:
“After a nearly 20-minute presentation by Police Captain (Randy) Fernandez stated over and over that he was not “selling” the program; in fact, that is EXACTLY what he was doing; and touting the program’s ability to “modify peoples’ behavior”. Let me repeat that and then let it sink in for a second. After all the dog and pony, and all the drama and theatrics, after all the data and statistics that were sited, and the videos shown, the bottom line is the government-run Red Light Camera Program is about “modifying peoples’ behavior”.”
She closed her editorial with this:
“The presentation, given by Captain Fernandez… about red light cameras improving safety and saving lives, was all smoke and mirrors to cover their real purpose: modifying people’s behavior! The red light cameras are not about safety, they are not about the paltry revenue streams. Like Agenda 21 and even CRA’s, which were also on the meeting agenda; the purpose of government programs like red light cameras is to get people to behave in a certain manner, to modify their behavior in such a way that is pleasing to the government. Because after all, Big Brother IS watching you.”
This is what Fernandez said at the July 2017 meeting:
“I’m not here to sell anything,” he said. “That’s not what my job is. What I’m saying is it’s one of the things that help us do our job. My goal and my whole heart are for the city and the people who live here and how I can help them be safe.”
He also wanted to point out that red light cameras are not the miracle worker of public safety, but rather a piece to the puzzle.
“It’s a behavior modification tool so that people think about what they are doing. Is it the panacea? No, it’s not. But if we can make them think about what they’re doing… Everybody’s been on the Turnpike. What do you do when you see a trooper in the median? You lift your foot off the gas, maybe hit the brake and look at your speedometer. That’s a behavior. And that’s the goal that I’m looking for. Red light camera programs are just one component of an overall traffic safety program. It’s a tool in our toolbox. Just like a taser, or a radar gun, or a fingerprint reader or DNA. They’re all tools that we use.”
Keep calm Apopka. No need to call-out specific council members who are likely to vote against the RLC’s. No need to invoke Fahrenheit 451, or Star Wars references. No need to compare your plight to the American Revolution. The likelihood is that the City Council will listen to your public comments on Wednesday, debate and discuss the RLC program and then vote to end it.
In part two tomorrow: The Apopka Voice offers a recommendation on how to resolve the red light camera issue.