Red Light Retrospective: Red Light Cameras and the Birth of Keep Columbia Free

While Missourians far and wide are celebrating the ruling issued by the Eastern District Court of Appeals regarding the legality, or illegality as it were, of red light camera programs in the state, it seems like the perfect time to take a look back at Keep Columbia Free’s relationship with Columbia’s own red light camera program. Most Columbians would not be surprised to find that Keep Columbia Free has long been opposed to the use of red light cameras, but few people know the seminal role these Orwellian cash machines played in bringing together this merry band of liberty lovers.

Early in 2010 a local liberty group known as Liberty on the Rocks, part of the national Liberty on the Rocks organization, was fomenting opposition to the deployment of Red Light Cameras in Columbia under the leadership of Liz DeFoe-Thomas. Another liberty group in Kansas City, The Liberty Restoration Project, had been sounding the alarm via social media and Liz had heard the call.

Mark Flakne had also heard the LRP call and, via some mutual friends on Facebook, was contacted by DeFoe-Thomas and invited to a sign-making party in preparation for Columbia’s first protest against the Red Light Cameras. It was at that party that Mark met Mitch Richards and the two immediately became fast friends.

The protest received a great deal of interest from the media and was a smashing success, drawing an endless chorus of enthusiastic honks from passing motorists.

Here are a few scenes from the party and the protest…

More protests and more honks followed…

As the first camera protest was winding down, local attorney Dan Viets stopped by and chatted with Flakne and Richards. Viets invited the two — and the rest of the group — to join in a local coalition he was forming to push back against another Orwellian camera scheme, the Downtown Safety Cameras. A week or two later, DeFoe-Thomas, Richards, and Flakne sat down with Dan, the then local ACLU, local Libertarian Party officials, and various other non-affiliated individuals concerned with government overreach. It was at this meeting that the first incarnation of Keep Columbia Free was born.

Following the failed campaign in opposition to the Safety Cameras, the committee was officially dissolved. Sensing the need for a liberty-centered organization with a broader scope, Richards and Flakne took on the mantle of leadership and re-registered the group as the political action committee you know today.

Over the last three-and-a-half years, Keep Columbia Free has often spoken against Columbia’s red light camera program. Here are a few tidbits from these past articles.

From Red Light Rip-Off:

The spin doctors in the Columbia City Manager’s Office have been hard at work twisting the reports regarding the city’s red light cameras. They claim that the red light cameras are to thank for fewer accidents at the intersections where they are installed. Both of our local papers have printed these claims without so much as a peep regarding the legitimacy of the study, so let’s break it down.

From Red Light Cameras: The Documents:

Was the practice of an all-red pause at intersections considered? An all-red pause and longer yellows would do more to improve the safety of intersections than red light cameras, but this change would not generate profits for Gatso and its partners at the City of Columbia. It’s all about the money, folks.

What it boils down to is that these statistics say nothing about the effectiveness of Gatso’s red light cameras. Assuming that Tony St Romaine and Bill Watkins are both intellegent enough to understand these statistics, it is frightening to see that our City Manager’s Office would attempt to distort the truth by feeding lies to the media and the citizens of Columbia whom they serve.

Does this prove that our city government couldn’t care less about the safety of our city, especially when there is a profit to be had?

From Toni and Tony Twist the Truth:

I think we all know that the system is all about the money. A silver-tounged salesman comes in from out of town and with a little Harold Hill song and dance, convinces Mayor Shinn — er– Hindman that there’s trouble in River City that only Gatso cameras can fix. Of course, the city loves the plan — they get to add money to the general fund. The City Manager’s office loves the idea because their respective résumés appear more robust as most of the funds are used to add to our already bloated city bureaucracy. And who can argue with the plan? Heck, it has to make us safer. It’s for the children, right?

What these government agents… I mean… city officials have failed to tell us is the real reason red light violations are down in Columbia. It has nothing to do with these silly cameras.

You see, earlier this year MODOT, in an attempt to reduce accidents at intersections governed by stoplights, changed the timing of the lights by adding more time to the yellow portion of the light timing.  And, wouldn’t ya know it, all of Columbia traffic cameras are at intersections governed by MODOT.

From Is Tony St. Romain Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?:

Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine might be smarter than a 5th grader, but when he talks about red light camera statistics, he’s definitely not smarter than a 12th grader.

I asked my 12th grade son the following:

The City of Columbia installed red light cameras at four intersections two years ago. The number of citations issued by the camera machinery dropped 28 percent in 2012 when compared with 2011. The City says that this indicates that the cameras are working. Is that a reasonable claim?

Without hesitation, my 12th grader reasoned that this claim could not be reasonable without knowing the traffic rates for the time periods in question and the number of citations at non-camera intersections during the same time periods (provided that enforcement patrol patterns had not changed at the non-camera intersections).

So why does Tony St. Romaine continue to claim that the red light cameras are a stunning success based on phony, partial statistics and tortured logic? Is he really a simpleton?

From Banning Red Light Cameras in Columbia:

I’ve written a couple of  blogs on the subject of red light cameras in Columbia, questioning the City Manager’s assessment of their effectiveness. You can read them HERE and HERE. I contend, and the city’s own documents support the fact, that red light cameras do not keep us safe from accidents at intersections. Instead, these Orwellian tools serve only to extract a profit for international corporate giant, Gatso, and the City of Columbia. Along with financial profits, the cameras added over $80,000 to the city budget and bureaucracy which gives a boost to the resume of any up and coming assistant city manager.

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