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With Rising Costs, Hollywood, Fla., Commissioners Question Use of Red-Light Cameras

After commissioners agreed to ditch the $50,000-a-month program, camera vendor American Traffic Solutions requested two months to work out a new contract that will no longer cost the city money.

by Susannah Bryan, Sun Sentinel / July 9, 2015

(TNS) -- Drivers looking to see Hollywood, Fla.'s end its red-light camera program almost got their wish — until a last-minute appeal got in the way.

During their meeting Wednesday, commissioners had agreed to ditch the city's 18 red-light cameras, heeding a call from Mayor Peter Bober to end the $50,000-a-month program due to rising costs. The vote was unanimous, without discussion or debate.

Then, in a bizarre twist, city leaders pulled an about-face less than three hours later.

What prompted the turnabout? An attorney for Arizona-based camera vendor American Traffic Solutions came forward with a late offer.

Alan Koslow, a former Hollywood city attorney hired by the vendor, made an enticing proposal: Give American Traffic Solutions two months to work out a new contract that will no longer cost the city money and Hollywood can skip the next two payments, saving $100,000.

"If we can snap our fingers right now and save the city $100,000, I see no reason why not to do that," Bober said.

Nearly two hours of angry debate ensued, with residents chastising commissioners for even entertaining the offer.

"It's like a zoo back here; a zoo," resident Helen Chervin told commissioners. "This is like the Disney Channel. We are going to save $600,000 a year by getting rid of these red-light cameras. Why are we debating this? It's ludicrous."

Resident Omar Recuero agreed, also urging commissioners to dump the cameras.

"It's not working financially," he said. "You should stick with what you've already done. Move on from this. A lot of cities are getting rid of the cameras."

But in the end, five city leaders agreed to consider the deal.

Bober joined Commissioners Patty Asseff, Kevin Biederman, Dick Blattner and Linda Sherwood in approving the proposal. Commissioners Traci Callari and Peter Hernandez voted no.

Callari and Hernandez said the only reason the mayor allowed debate so long after the vote was because Koslow had clout at City Hall.

"It's already a done deal and now we are going to bring it back?" Callari said. "Normally this would never happen."

Hernandez chimed in: "To all you residents out there, now you know who runs Hollywood."

Bober got his gavel ready.

"The theater can end," he told Hernandez, warning him that he was violating rules of decorum. "Commissioner Hernandez, you are interrupting me," he said, slamming the gavel. "Close your mouth. You're interrupting."

Blattner, Asseff and Sherwood argued the city should consider the 11th-hour offer because it would end up saving taxpayers money.

"I strongly believe in this program," Asseff said. "If we can save $100,000 and [save] lives, that's all I care about."

Hollywood stopped citing red-light runners caught by the cameras in October after losing an appellate court ruling. But the city left the cameras running and continued making payments to American Traffic Solutions, as required under the contract.

Hollywood, under contract since May 2010, was free to end the agreement with a 60-day notice, with or without cause. The program has been operating in the red for about two years, costing taxpayers around $600,000 a year, city officials say.

Should Hollywood reject the new contract terms in two months, commissioners can end the contract immediately, Koslow said.

If they approve the new terms, the camera program would live on, after administrative tweaks are made to bring it into compliance with state law.

The mayor's call to end the program followed a series of courtroom losses.

An appeals court struck down Hollywood's camera program in October, ruling the city had improperly delegated too much police authority to a private vendor.

In April, Florida's Supreme Court refused to hear Hollywood's appeal, which further put the city's program on thin ice.

Other cities have ended or suspended their red-light camera programs, including Fort Lauderdale, Hallandale Beach, Margate, Coral Springs, Tamarac, Boca Raton, Boynton Beach and unincorporated Palm Beach County.

Sunrise and Davie are among the few cities in South Florida to keep the cameras running. Both cities say they have tweaked their programs to remain compliant with state law.

Hollywood's cameras have been placed at intersections with high accident rates, including A1A and Sheridan Street; Interstate 95 and Sheridan Street; and Federal Highway and Pembroke Road.

Blattner told the Sun Sentinel he hoped the city can one day use its own surveillance cameras to catch red-light runners.

"In the future, we may be able to do some of this stuff on our own," Blattner said. "Because the technology is there."

©2015 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.