Once again, City of Columbia bureaucratic functionaries are playing fast and loose with the truth about Columbia’s red light camera program. The last time Tony St. Romaine was caught spinning statistics in the city’s favor he was merely an Assistant City Manager, but his spin skills have since earned him a promotion to the position of Deputy City Manager.
Interested readers can read all about the previous false claimsHERE andHERE
In arecently published article in the Columbia Missourian, a new Toni joined the mix — Columbia Public Communications Director Toni Messina. As if fulfilling some sort of homophonic destiny, this bureaucratic Tony/Toni duo teamed up for some dizzying spin in an attempt to explain why the City has opted not to install thepreviously planned, additional red light cameras.
In the story, Messina and St. Romaine make the argument that the plan for additional cameras was scrapped due to a marked decrease in the number of red light violations and that the the four existing cameras could be credited for the drop due to some sort of magical “spill-over effect.”
That might indicate that the red-light cameras already installed have caused drivers to be cautious throughout the city, St. Romaine said. “I think it’s had a spill-over effect into the rest of Columbia.”
Messina made a similar claim:
“They’re not seeing the type of violations that they had seen earlier. The number of red-light violations has leveled off to a point where it’s looking like they [red light cameras] had the desired effect,” she said
So according to these two, the four red light cameras have worked their Gatso magic and cured Columbians of their dangerous red light running addiction.
But the two disagreed slightly on the influence money made on the decision to abandon the camera expansion plan. Of course, St. Romaine has always claimed that the increased revenue was not important and he stuck to his story.
Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said that revenue had no bearing on the decision not to install more cameras.
“The reason red-light cameras were put in was to make the public more aware of the potential consequences of running red lights,” he said.
Messina was singing a slightly different tune and admitted that money was a factor. Perhaps she is just a more effective spin doctor. After all, the best lies always contain a little truth.
Messina went on…
“…they had the desired effect,” she said. “When that happens, it generates less revenue and the vendor is affected by that as well.”
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.
We at Keep Columbia Free have always argued that a longer yellow and an all-red pause would do far more to make intersections safer than any camera system could hope to. The problem with simply adjusting the lights instead of installing cameras is that nobody gets rich by merely adjusting the lights.
Now it’s time to get rid of the four remaining red light cameras in this city. Let’s run these Gatso rats out of town once and for all. The cameras were installed with little to no public input and have done nothing but fill the coffers of the corporate giant Gatso and increase our city bureaucracy. We encourage you to write to the city council and demand that these terrible Orwellian red light cameras be removed immediately.
Here are the email addresses for the Mayor, City Council and City Manager.
****UPDATE**** It looks like the city has pulled the video from their website. It should be available via a FOI request. We will have a copy up in a day or two.
****Update**** After filing a Missouri Sunshine Law request we have obtained a copy of the video and added it to this blog. The video is still missing from the City Channel.
While searching for more information regarding the recent disclosure by CPD Lt. Chris Kelly stating that the police have been using our new so-called “Safety Cameras” for real-time, live monitoring of Downtown Columbia’s law abiding citizens I ran across an interesting and somewhat disturbing video on the City of Columbia website. The video entitled Downtown Surveillance Cameras features the founder of Keep Columbia Safe, the local, private, political committee that successfully lobbied in favor of the camera program.
The video is anything but a subjective look at the latest Orwellian tool to be employed by our local government overlords. As you can see, it plays more like a promotional video for Keep Columbia Safe than an objective government public service announcement and is rife with the same falsehoods that were spewed during the original campaign that spawned the one-eyed Big Brother brood.
At the 1:03 mark in the video, Karen Taylor is allowed to tout the fine work of her group as she says:
Keep Columbia Safe was formed through the um work of adopting the “safety camera” ordinance but um our goal is to promote law enforcement and improve safety in our community.
Then she goes on to repeat the same unfounded claims that were made during the campaign as she says:
We looked at a number of cities that use safety cameras and the one thing that was pretty evident was that once communities started using safety cameras they found the value and they added more and that they really found them beneficial.
The problem with this statement, other than the repeated use of the blatantly propagandized moniker “safety cameras,” is that there is not one shred of empirical evidence that says surveillance cameras are effective at keeping people safe. In fact, there aremyriad studies that say exactly the opposite, again and again.
And then she lays on the scare tactics laced with a creative statistical claim…
…if you look at so many crimes these days whether it’s murders, abductions, assaults, most of the time cameras are involved in solving the case
Really? “Most” of the time? Cameras are used to solve the majority of murders, abductions, and assaults? Wow! Who knew? And who knew that downtown Columbia was the murder, assault, and abduction hot spot in town? Apparently, the City Channel supports these claims (and with your tax dollars).
Ms. Taylor also states that:
We didn’t say that it [the cameras] would necessarily end crime or prevent crime although we hoped it to be a deterrent, but it was another tool for law enforcement.
Well, actually, Ms. Taylor and her well funded media marketing machine repeatedly made the claim during the campaign that cameras would prevent crime. Heck, the invented name “safety camera” alone shows the intent to have folks believe that the cameras will keep them safe. Check out the first 30 seconds of following video as evidence of one of countless times when the “cameras equal crime prevention” argument was made by Ms. Taylor.
After watching the Keep Columbia Safe promotional propaganda video on the City of Columbia website, funded, produced, filmed, and hosted by the City of Columbia’s City Channel, I decided to write the following email to Don Cizek, one of the top dogs at the City Channel.
Dear Mr. Cizek,
I recently viewed a video on the city website entitled “Downtown Surveillance Cameras,” featuring Karen Taylor, founder of Keep Columbia Safe. The video was produced by you. I’m hoping you can provide me with information outlining the steps our organization, Keep Columbia Free, should take to have a similar promotional video directed and produced by city staff, hosted and promoted on the city website, and financed by the city.
Not surprisingly, I received the following response from Toni Messina, Communications Director for the City of Columbia:
Thanks for your recent email regarding this topic.
The video informs viewers of an initiative that was passed by voters and became a duty, with implementation authorized by the City Council and funded in the City budget. It is not private advocacy or an opinion piece, although the individual who brought the issue to voters’ attention is prominently featured. That was an unusual situation due to inability to schedule other internal spokespersons.
I hope this is clear and that you understand we will not be scheduling a video shoot with your organization.
Toni Messina Communications Director 701 E. Broadway Columbia, MO 65201 Phone: 573-874-7660 Fax: 573-442-8828
Really, Toni? You couldn’t find anyone on the city staff, especially the police department, to be a spokesperson for the downtown cameras? You couldn’t get Lt. Chris Kelly, whose downtown patrol unit spends their evenings glued to the live video feed, to spend a few minutes extolling his latest crime fighting tool?
Here is the response I sent to Toni:
Thank you for your response, but there are a few things I still find unclear.
While your sense of duty is admirable, it is important to note that the Prop 1 initiative that was passed by voters did not create a duty for the city to implement the downtown camera system. The ballot language was specific and merely authorized the deployment of cameras. The ordinance language reflects the same.
To help you understand the difference between authorization and duty, I offer the following example.
As a citizen of theUnited States, presuming you are not under some sort of court ordered house arrest, you are “authorized” to travel toKansas City. While you are legally “authorized” to travel toKansas City, it is not your “duty” to do so.
I do not understand your department’s inability to schedule other internal spokespersons. Who did you ask to take part? Was this film made on a deadline of some sort? If so, why was there a deadline? How does your department’s inability to schedule internal spokespersons justify the use of a private, partisan spokesperson?
I also take issue with your statement that the video in question “is not a private or an opinion piece,” since Ms. Taylor was allowed to outline the work of her private group and give several of her own unfounded opinions about the effectiveness of government surveillance systems.
Your email has outlined the City Channel policy for making videos. From your email it is clear that groups that campaign for a ballot measure that creates a clear duty for city staff and win voter approval in the election will be provided the opportunity to have a video produced and hosted by the city. Please provide me with a copy of that policy or a copy of the policy that outlines the protocol for deciding what topics will be covered by the City Channel.
While the Prop 1 camera initiative does not fit the criteria you’ve outlined, there is one past ballot initiative that does. In 2004 a ballot initiative to make marijuana the lowest priority for law enforcement was passed by moreColumbia voters than was Prop 1. The ordinance creates a clear “duty” for local law enforcement. When will a video be produced regarding this issue and starring one of the proponents of that ballot initiative?
Mark – The cost for a DVD is $3.98. If you agree to this, then we can produce it and have ready some time today or tomorrow. I will prepare an invoice and you can pay at our cashier’s office and get a receipt. Will that work for you?
Also, in response to your question about City Channel policy, I can tell you that the City Channel exists to support all City agencies and the City Council with broadcast programming and meeting and event services. The City Channel is a “division” of the Public Communications Department with two distinct functions. On the broadcast side, “the Channel” produces and airs public service-oriented programming to local cable television service subscribers in Columbia:
Live and rebroadcast meetings of the City Council, Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Adjustment;
Regular and special news conferences;
Special meetings on City issues;
Video segments on City services and programs; and
Announcements of City jobs, City-sponsored events and other community events.
On the “events” side, City Channel staff installs, maintains and sets up all audiovisual equipment needed for meetings held in the Council Chamber, Conference Rooms 1A and 1B and the Mezzanine in City Hall. City agencies pay reasonable costs for both types of services through intragovernmental charges.
While this business practice for programming has been in place since the Channel was established in the 1990’s, I am not aware of any policies that provide specific guidance.
Toni Messina Communications Director 701 E. Broadway Columbia, MO 65201 Phone: 573-874-7660 Fax: 573-442-8828 firstname.lastname@example.org
In short, “We do what we want.”
If any of what you’ve read here concerns you, we recommend that you contact Toni Messina at the email or phone number found above.
It will be interesting to see what our FOI request turns up.