Government Transparency: Opaque?

3/29/09

Last Wednesday, during the operations administration meeting, I brought up a potential ordinance that I wrote about, several weeks ago, on this blog.

The idea was that “ALL” ordinances and resolutions must be made available to the media and city council a minimum of one news cycle (defined as the Wednesday or Saturday edition of the Missourian) before it can be considered in a public session of the city council.

Initially I wanted to see the entire ordinance posted in the paper so the citizens could see exactly what is going on. But after looking at the printing cost, I determined that agenda items with plain language descriptions of ordinances/resolutions would be much more economical.

If an interested party wanted more detail, they could go the City of Washington website and read the full ordinance. The printings cost would be about $40 per week to have the information published in the Missourian.

Now, let me digress: Sometimes city councilmen can get City Council packages the Friday before a Monday City Council meeting. Not only does this make it difficult for the council to properly research agenda items but can make it equally or more difficult for citizens to know what government is up to.

For example: On Wednesday, 13th, 2006, the City Council voted unanimously amending Title V of the city code relating to certificates of occupancy and inspections of existing homes and buildings. (See story in Missourian.)

Here is where it gets interesting: Quoting from the Missourian, ”
No one expressed opposition to the code amendment Wednesday night. ” This is really rich considering no one in the community knew about the upcoming vote. Maybe that is because the story came out in the Missourian on the same day and hour as the votes was being cast – possibly giving some hint as to why “No one expressed opposition to the code amendment Wednesday night.”

Since 2002, the city had tried to pass this change to the code and every time was met with stiff resistance from the community. And only with a “no notice” vote, was it ever passed – all but annihilating  public opposition.  As if this wasn’t enough, the city went on to authorize buying private information from Ameren UE, so as to more effectively manage this new “safety” program of occupancy inspections. Some have gone so far as to suggest this entire ordinance was nothing more than an attempt at the gentrification of Washington.

Thomas Paine, in ‘Common Sense’ wrote: “Time makes more converts than reason.” I will let Paine’s words and ideas speak eloquently in ways I can not.

Bringing us back to the present, I was shocked (and somewhat appalled) when some on the city council actually felt the citizens have enough transparency in the way government works. Some actually, and with a straight face, suggesting $40 per week was a waste of tax payer money.

Councilman Dill asked me how many people would actually read the agendas. My response was that if only one read it, it would be worth the expense. The Mayor, along with Councilman Mohesky, opined that sources currently in place are more than adequate for an informed community to be in the know.

Current sources would be the broadcast video/audio of each city council meeting (even though this system is currently being upgraded and still has unacceptably poor quality issues). The Mayor intoned that people could go up to city hall and read the public postings or view the channel 10 bulletin board and that the staff does a more than adequate job getting information out to the public.

So there you have it; go to city hall each week, and read the public postings or watch the channel 10 bulletin board – never mind that most of us don’t even get channel 10. Or you could just view the agenda on the city website – after the vote has taken place.

Transparency is vitally important because it shines an uncomfortably bright light on some things that government would prefer kept in the dark. Apathy empowers government and if a mathematical equation should be derived expressing this relationship, it could be shown graphically that the less people know about their government, the more apathetic they become. Transparency is one of the few disinfectants that can keep and purify government and give citizens an active voice in how their money is spent.

Ironically,  shortly following this discussion on how $40 was too great an expense for a cash strapped city budget, what did we discuss? Kicking in between $12,000 and $23,000 dollars to help pave a joint use parking lot, that we don’t own, but us.

Sometimes being a councilman can be a real head scratcher.

Advertisements

Catching a Falling Knife & The Stimulus

2/27/09

Have you ever dropped a two sided sharp knife and for a split reflex second thought about trying to catch it. Hopefully, that little alert light went off in your head and the best decision – wait till it hits the floor, was what you decided on.

As of today, our economy is like that knife, it is in free fall. Millions of Americans would love to reach out and catch that knife, just before it hits bottom, but their gut tells them otherwise. The savvy investor or consumer knows that if you buy a house, car, or stocks before the knife hits bottom, you stand a great chance of being cut.

One of the many things that anoys me about the Obama Stimulus package is their reluctance to let the knife hit bottom. Because this administration is trying to be all things to all people, he is preventing the knife from hitting bottom.

President Obama must stop interfering with the natural process of capitalism by buying up “toxic” assets, propping up companies that are on life support, and the soft socialism of supporting people owning homes that have never fit rational lending practices.

Credit markets must be allowed to flow, and I understand that, but to prop up companies that would be better off restructuring through bankruptcy courts is pandering to the populist crowd. Yes, I know, Bush did the same thing and so was he wrong.
President Obama and company, believe in capitalism. Let the knife hit the floor so we can do what we have always done – recover and rebuild.

Guy Midkiff

Published in: on February 27, 2009 at 8:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Inside Looking In

6/10/08

Well, I have been in office for some two months and I was told things would look much different from the inside. And guess what? It is different. Some of my observations are that the city staff is made up of very dedicated and career professionals. I have been very impressed by their caliber and loyalty to the city and their work ethic.

And while I am concerned about the money we spend, I did take several days going over last years budget and audit. I also had several conversations with the company that audited our books and they left me with the impression of overall confidence in our revenue and spending positions. If you compare Washington to other comparable sized cities, we are above average in the amounts we keep in our reserves. There were some minor procedural accounting comments, but nothing that would rise to the level of concern.

Highway 100 to I44 widening will cost us some 20 million and place considerable debt burden on the community for the next decade or so, but the lending terms were good and east of town is where our growth is projected. The expansion, while expensive, will well position Washington for future growth.

The new water treatment plant will also cost us some 20 million, but again this is an example of true municipal infrastructure – something we simply must have going forward. There is some concern about possible cost overruns, but nothing concrete of yet.

I was surprised to learn that our $6.5 million dollar “regional” airport is now considered an “infrastructure” improvement and should not be required to carry its own weight, financially. Somehow I still don’t get the connection between true infrastructure improvements that citizens actually use (like roads and water treatment) and the airport, but I will keep trying to see the light.

in·fra·struc·ture [in-fruh-struhk-cher] –noun

. the fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city, or area, as transportation and communication systems, power plants, and schools.

Ignoring the airport issue, I am impressed with the general direction the city of Washington has charted for our future and the current financial health of our fine city.

Guy W. Midkiff

Published in: on June 10, 2008 at 9:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

• Washington: A Bright Future

3-28-08
Guy W. Midkiff

When someone runs for a political office, they usually speak in vague generalities, almost the way a fortune teller does, so that their message has broad appeal and collects the most favorable opinions possible, but rarely is there any substance in their message.

I am not a professional politician. I am an airline Captain, with a military background, and a business owner. I have a degree in economics (agriculture economics) from Texas A&M University. I make no excuses for my conservative beliefs and am a fervent student of Reaganomics. And unlike my opponent, I am very clear about what I stand for.

Specifically:

1. reduce the growth of government spending,
2. reduce marginal tax rates on income from labor and capital,
3. reduce regulation,
4. control the money supply to reduce inflation.

I believe the City of Washington has strayed dramatically from our fiscally conservative heritage and quite possibly may be causing serious problems for our future. On a micro-economic scale, we can do nothing about item “4.” But we can certainly address items 1-3, though.

Speaking of regulation, it comes in several forms. Regulation is necessary to ensure the public good, but can quickly over-reach. Here we must have balance. Many good construction jobs have been lost to surrounding communities because some builders find the Washington regulatory environment too restrictive. This is not my opinion, but based on actual conversations I have had with builders and developers.

Part of the problem comes from the fact that very few people in our city government has ever run a business or had to meet a payroll. No doubt, all are extraordinary people in their own right, but have never had to develop a budget or analyze complex projects based on returns on income or generally accepted accounting principles.

One only needs to read the local newspaper to see the recent and many wrong turns on capital expenditures, this city government has taken. We have and are spending money in areas that can either wait or be tabled permanently. The water sewer treatment plant is a classic example. No doubt we will need the plant, but…did we go about the financing of the project in the proper manner? Is it possible that we could have avoided the almost tripling of water/sewer rates and the $20M bond financing? Did we consider the dramatic affect a near tripling of water/sewer rates will have on those of us on fixed incomes??

Maybe we could have spent less on other projects and focused more on the basics – things we need, as opposed to things we want. The spending spree we have been on for the last 5 years is not conservative, it is big-city-ways, that will get us in big-city-problems. To show how far we have strayed, our city council actually tried to pass an ordinance requiring a certified arborist to trim our own trees – give me a break.

We must begin by rolling back the tax rate, each and ever year. Are we conducting city business as efficiently as possible? The first thing a corporation does when belt tightening begins is slashing costs. One dollar cut from cost is significantly more valuable than one dollar of tax revenue raised. Dollars cut goes directly to the bottom line, one tax dollar brought in, does not translate to one full dollar because of the inherent inefficiencies of the tax collecting and distribution process. So, taking in less money will force new efficiencies in the system.

Also, while we lavish dollars on large corporations through corporate welfare handouts, let’s not forget that one-dollar spent on an indigenous business keeps three times as much of that dollar in the local community, than does a dollar spent on a nation chain. (The local business: buys a local car, eats in a local restaurant, and uses a local bank, doctor, lawyer and mechanic. I could go on and on.

Also, never forget that that fancy fortune 500 corporation will not hesitate giving pink slips to 500 people and moving their jobs to Mexico – over night.

So go ahead and build them their $6.5 Million dollar runways, but never forget the vital importance of local businesses.

As we move into the future, I would like to see varied businesses develop here. We all ready have:

• Outstanding work ethic.
• Natural proximity to the Missouri River and a major interstate.
• Geographically centered.
• In place banking industry.
• In place industrial park.
• Dramatically growing medical facilities.
• Nearby university.

Some new areas we should consider:

• Bio-technology
• Medical-technology
• Hi-Tech
• Communication
• Research
• Alternative Energy

We should aggressively pursue developing the infrastructure and framework to attract such companies. I would like to see a venture capital forum convene here next year and begin committing to the type of venture capital such businesses need for seed money.

A fresh look should be given to developing Initiative Teams to develop new, successful, growth strategies. We absolutely must make sure our core competencies are well represented at the state and federal levels.
Washington must be seen as a business friendly community that not only caters to corporate America, but also the boutique and entrepreneurs that will retrench larger portions of their profits, back in our community.

If we want to keep our child and children’s children, in our community, we simply must make a huge commitment to advanced educational programs.

Better Education = Better Jobs

Our Future is Bright!
Guy W. Midkiff

• State Trooper “X”

3.27.08
Guy W. Midkiff

Yesterday I met State Trooper “X.” State Trooper X’s name will remain anonymous. What I want to say to him (as I know he is reading) is thanks. Thanks for constantly putting your butt on the line for our safety. Thanks for putting up with all the bull that faces you; from a broken judicial system, to mountains of paper work.

Each time Trooper X makes a stop, it could end up in tragedy. Each time Trooper X is called out, he may very well not come home to his young family. What ever we pay them it “aint” [sic] enough.

You and I may have a gentlemans disagreement about the efficacy of Red Light Cameras, but you and the rest of law enforcement will always have my unfettered and unwaivering support. I simply can not put into words the respect I have for LEO’s.

BTW, Trooper X, I have made good on toning down my blog – hopefully you have already noted all the changes. 🙂

Be safe, friend.
Guy W. Midkiff

Published in: on March 27, 2008 at 6:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

• Ameren Selling Customer Info to City Of Washington

3.25.08
Guy W. Midkiff

1984.jpg

On 08-06-2007, the City of Washington passed ordinance no. 07-10277, introduced by Councilman Tim Brinker. To quote:

An ordinance to enter into an agreement with Ameren UE for notification to the city by Ameren UE Company when there is a successor of existing utility service, in The City of Washington, Franklin County, Missouri.

The ordinance goes on to pay Ameren UE $200 (Not clear if this is per month or one time) for the customer information, of course paid with our tax dollars.

Here is an email exchange with a representative from Ameren:

My name is Guy Midkiff and I live in Washington, Missouri. Can you please tell me whether or not Ameren UE is providing or selling their customer data base to the City of Washington, Missouri.
From: SGallagher@ameren.com
Subject: RE: Selling Customer Data Base
Date: March 23, 2008 11:02:32 AM EDT

We don’t share our customer names to my knowledges with any outside party. Can you explain?

Bottom Line: Your personal information is being sold, by Ameren UE, to the City of Washington, so as to police their occupancy inspections. You had no say-so in the matter, nor what measures The City of Washington is taking to protect your personal and private information.

This is a continuation of this administrations big government and intrusive big-city-ways, slowly disregarding the rights of its individual citizens. Remember, it is only for your safety.

•Occupancy Inspections
•Red Light Cameras
•Ticket Quotas
•Video Cameras at Intersections
•Accessing Your Private Information

Call Ameren and the City of Washington. Tell them to stop using your personal information.

Ameren UE: Mrs. Galagher (314) 554-2175
City of Washington: Mayor 390-1000

Published in: on March 25, 2008 at 9:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

• Ticket Quota’s: Why They Are Bad

Guy W. Midkiff
3-5-08

I viewed the 3-3-08 City Council Meeting and found the discussion on Ticket Quota’s very interesting. One of the council members took the city to task over the parsing of the words: “Ticket Quotas” and “Goals.” While the conversation whip-sawed back and forth, I “think” the Mayor and Police Chief actually admitted we have a quota system. The Chief clearly said that “quotas were not illegal in Missouri” which could only leave the layman to conclude that the City has no problems with the quota system.

Of course this flies in the face of the City’s stern proclamation that “Washington Does Not Have a Quota System.” I am left some what confused and bewildered and will try and upload video footage of the meeting so that you can decide for your self.

So, why are ticket quota’s bad?

Well, whatever name you give it, this system is bad for both the public and police. “The public receives unjustified tickets and increased insurance charges. At the same time, the police are harmed because the public has less confidence in them. There are better ways to evaluate the performance of the police.”

Quotas take officers away from other duties, such as patrolling communities, in order to generate revenue for the city.

Police serve in the sometimes tricky nexus between the rights of free citizens and the need for government to impose order. It’s a tough enough job without a city putting them in the position of tax collector. And public perception that police are, in fact, tax collectors is an even greater disservice.

I was taught long ago, though, if you can’t do or suggest better, stop you belly aching. So here is my solution:

Since drivers operate motor vehicles under a privilege granted by the state, let the cash penalties for violations of that privilege flow to the state, not to local city government.
This approach solves several problems at once. If traffic fines went to the state, all motive, and thus all suspicion, would be removed from local governments. A cloud of distrust would be lifted from police. Officers would be able to focus on enforcing the traffic laws. Motorists would have to face the reality that it was their own bad driving, not the greed of government, that earned them a ticket. And police departments could establish performance criteria without being accused of ripping people off.

Published in: on March 4, 2008 at 10:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

• Washington City Employees

Guy Midkiff
3-3-08

It struck me (again) at about 3 this  morning, when I awoke to the sound of snow plows clearing our streets and again when garbage crews, around 6:30, were out collecting trash cans – when no one else dared venture out in near blizzard conditions, this frigid morning.

I think many often take what our city employees do for granted. These dedicated employees are the unsung hero’s of Washington. They are seldom recognized because they are so reliable and do their jobs so professionally. The same can be said for our dedicated police force – if I could just figure out how to get them on as full time employees and not “at will” employees.

We must also give credit to the Mayor for taking a leadership role in the community and taking Washington to the next step in its current growth cycle. I may not agree with the Boss on every issue, but his drive and determination must be respected and I certainly do respect our Mayor for what he has accomplished. I also appreciate him sending my blog address to most of the city employees and giving me the opportunity to speak to you personally. I also appreciate the personal emails that the city employees have sent me and promise you my unwaivering support as I said in my replies.

Thanks folks for your hard work, it is very much appreciated.

Guy Midkiff

Published in: on March 4, 2008 at 5:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

• Street Talk

Street Talk is a page regarding my experiences while walking the streets of Ward III and some of the conversations that I have with residents.

3-11-08
Have now spent 5 days meeting people in my Ward. So far, I am being told that I am the first Ward 3 Candidate to go door to door. It has been fun getting to know people in my Ward and daunting at the same time. I think I know how a salesman must feel doing “cold-calls.”

I have been bit by one dog, so far, and have only had one door actually closed in my face – not bad for about 100 homes. Talking to “my folks” gives me immense hope for Washington and the Country. Don’t know what it is about people that wave the U.S. Flag on the front yard, but they always want to hear me and they VOTE!

Some of the issues I am hearing are: Cars that speed through neighborhoods, Red Light Cameras, Taxes, street and roads, and Taxes (I get it.)

Even though Chief Hahn says he has met more people for Red Light Cameras than against, I can only surmise that they don’t live in Ward 3. I have met one person that was for RLC’s, but changed her mind once I explained to her how the scam works.

I met with a group of seniors, this morning at Mc Donald’s, and there primary concern was how they were going to keep up with escalating taxes and the onslaught of the new water/sewer rates. I saw genuine fear in several of their eyes that only reinforced my feeling that we most take care of those on fixed incomes and new families. Many were considering leaving Washington and moving to a community that was cheaper. This is a major problem and I will dedicate much of my effort trying to resolve the issue.

3-1-08
Today I spoke with about 30 residents in my Ward. I did not speak with a single family that was for Red Light Cameras, and some used some rather colorful language to describe them. I made it clear that if someone could convince me they saved lives, then I would be for them. Until then, I am not.

I spoke with 4 firemen and once again pledged my full support to the volunteer firemen, city employees, and police department.

Without exception, all residents were very skeptical of the 225% increase in city total revenue, over the last 5 years. Streets were a big concern and thought the basics should be taken care of first. Several people brought up $36K light poles, and I assured them that my voice would be heard loud and clear opposing such wasteful expenditures of tax dollars.

One gentlemen pointed out there was no posted speed limit on Marquart Drive and wants to see the limit set at 20 mph because of the large number of children in the neighborhood. To date, the city has refused to comply with his request for a safe speed in Autumn Leaf Estates.

Published in: on March 1, 2008 at 5:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

• Red Light Cameras & Insurance Rates

Guy W. Midkiff
2-29-08

I think it is pretty clear by now that Red Light Cameras are more about another city money grab than they are about safety. And as I do more research into RLC’s, I find more that bothers me about these cameras. Take for example insurance companies: Seems like insurance companies are getting in on the action as well.

I spoke with my insurance company (USAA) today and asked them what affects a RLC ticket will have on my insurance rates. If you have no points on your record, then the result is rather benign. Your rates will increase by about $20 per year for the next 3 years. If you have two points, then that little $98 RLC ticket will cost you another $300 in insurance increases, for a grand total of $400. Remember, your rates increase for 3 years if you get RLC justice.

By the way, the ticket will go to the owner of the vehicle and not the actual driver – you are assumed guilty and it is up to you to prove your innocence (so much for due-process).

And why do they ticket your car and not you? Good question. Seems that the first states to institute fines against the individual, so bogged down the jury by peers judicial system, that they were forced to fine the automobile, thus avoiding trial by jury.

• My Political Philosophy

Guy W. Midkiff
2-29-08
Political Philosophy

1.jpgTraditionally, prospective and active City Councilpersons do not declare their allegiance to one political party or another. As many may have noticed, I am waging a very untraditional campaign. I am the first candidate in Washington to ever communicate directly to the voter by means of a blog. I am clearly about communication, this is why I speak to my prospective constituents directly through this medium.

If you vote for me, I want you to know exactly what I stand for and what you will get, if I am elected. I want there to be no question about my leadership style and political philosophy. I believe in forming alliances at city hall, but I reject the idea that I will support the mayor out of a sense of “harmony,” as the local newspaper put it. My sense of duty and “harmony” is to my constituents – end of story. My leadership style was molded in the Marine Corps and has been sharpened as a TWA and American Airlines Captain, holding previous elected office in New York City, and Washington business owner.

My philosophy is simple – conservatism. I have lived in almost every major city in this country and also two countries in Europe. I have seen first hand what unchecked government can do to businesses and the public. My motto is also simple: Less Government, Less Taxes, and Less Government Regulations.

The following are some of my core conservative principles:

* A conservative believes in the motto quoted by Henry David Thoreau, “That government is best which governs least.” A conservative’s vision of government was put forth by Thomas Jefferson: “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another [and] shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.”

* A conservative believes that individuals and families are the basic units of society, and that anti-family policies (such as the current ultra-high tax rates on working families) should be ended.

* A conservative believes that, however unattainable the goal of moral perfection, people should strive to put morality and their families ahead of other concerns in their lives.

* A conservative has compassion for the poor and opposes policies, such as those based on socialism and on opposition to new technology, that cause or extend poverty.

* A conservative believes in the free trade of goods and services, but rejects the mercantilism (“welfare for corporations”) that masquerades as free trade.

* A conservative believes that great weight should be put on the wisdom expressed in the founding documents of Western civilization and American society, including the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution with its Bill of Rights.

* A conservative believes in the Rule of Law – that a law means what it says, as the language of the law was understood when the law was written. A conservative rejects the idea of a Living Constitution, under which lawyers and judges can change laws by undemocratic means. If judges are allowed such power, Jefferson noted, the U.S. Constitution “is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the Judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.”

* A conservative believes that public policy should encourage advancement based on ability and achievement, not on membership in an actual or concocted group.

* A conservative understands that “the public interest,” as determined by governing elites, is not the public interest – that, not surprisingly, it represents the interests of the governing elites.

* A conservative has respect for those who have made sacrifices in the cause of freedom, and for those who put their lives in peril to protect others. A conservative has respect for people who work hard and play by the rules.

* A conservative sees the United States of America as a special place because of its history as a beacon for freedom-loving people from around the world. A conservative believes the United States is blessed by the presence of people from countless nations and cultures when those people are hard-working, law-abiding, and eager to interact with other Americans through a shared language.

A person does not have to adhere to a strict set of political principles to meet my definition of conservative. One of the characteristics I associate with true conservatives is that they believe in free argument and debate, not unthinking uniformity of opinion.

Finally:

* You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
* You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
* You cannot help little men by tearing down big men.
* You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
* You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
* You cannot establish sound security on borrowed money.
* You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
* You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than you earn.
* You cannot build character and courage by destroying men’s initiative and independence.
* And you cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.

-William J. H. Boetcker

• Volunteerism

Guy W. Midkiff
2-28-08
Volunteerism

Volunteerism is the willingness of people to work on behalf of others without the expectation of pay or other tangible gain. Volunteers may have special training as rescuers, guides, assistants, teachers, missionaries, amateur radio operators, writers, and in other positions. But the majority work on an impromptu basis, recognizing a need and filling it, whether it be the dramatic search for a lost child or the mundane giving of directions to a lost visitor.

In economics, voluntary employment is unpaid employment. It may be done for altruistic reasons, for example charity, as a hobby, community service or vocation, or for the purpose of gaining experience. Some go so far as to dedicate much of their lives to voluntary service. One way in which this is done is through the creation of a Non-Profit Franchise.

All of this came to mind, this morning, when my wife and I did our weekly 1/2 day volunteer service at Washington West Elementary. I had noticed a very polite lady who seemed to be always at the school and I assumed that she was a full time employee. I was having a particular problem with a project and asked her from some advice. During the course of the conversation, we got to talking about volunteer work and how rewarding it was to help others. I was floored when she told me that she put in 30 hours per week at the school. She went on to say how fulfilled the work left her and how much harmony it brought to her life.

I wished I could capture that spirit, bottle it, and hand it out to others. People like Mrs. “R” are at the heart of what makes the Washington community so special. In the immortal words of John F. Kennedy, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Some good advice to live by.

Published in: on February 28, 2008 at 4:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

• Red Light Cameras Increase Accidents

•Arizona: Speed Camera Under Investigation in Fatal Crash[click]
•Rome, Georgia Red Light Cameras Increase Wrecks, Profit[click]
•Bakersfield, California Red Light Camera Accidents Up[click]
Stockton, California Report Shows Accidents Jump With Cameras
Houston Red Light Cameras Fail to Prove Safety Benefit

Red-Light Cameras Increase Accidents: 5 Studies That Prove It

From the National Motor Association: January 8th, 2008 Posted in Red-Light Cameras The NMA has been contending that red-light cameras (RLCs) are a detriment to motorist safety for many years.

People, both in the media and in the general public, often dismiss this claim as opinion, suggest that there isn’t enough data available yet, ask why we support people who run red lights (we don’t), or write off the organization as being biased.

The only way to combat this is through hard facts and independent research. Luckily, we have both.

We reiterate our challenge: If it’s not about the money, then prove it.

No community has accepted, which shouldn’t be surprising considering the facts.

Here are five independent studies that demonstrate the failure of red-light cameras as a safety measure:

1) A Long Term Study of Red-Light Cameras and Accidents
David Andreassen
Australian Road Research Board
February, 1995

This study examined the long term effect on accident-types of red-light cameras at 41 signalized intersections in Melbourne, Australia. The cameras were installed in 1984, and reported accidents for the period 1979 to 1989 were used in the detailed analysis.

Quotes from the study:

“The results of this study suggest that the installation of the RLC at these sites did not provide any reduction in accidents, rather there has been increases in rear end and adjacent approaches accidents on a before and after basis and also by comparison with the changes in accidents at intersection signals.”

“There has been no demonstrated value of the RLC as an effective countermeasure.”

Download The Full Study

2) The Impact of Red Light Cameras (Photo-Red Enforcement) on Crashes in Virginia
Virginia Transportation Research Council
June 2007

The Virginia Transportation Research Council released a report expanding upon earlier research into the safety effects of red light cameras in Virginia. Despite showing an increase in crashes, this study was instrumental in the return of red-light cameras to the state of Virginia. With a proven negative safety impact, the clear incentive to bring back the cameras was money.

Quotes from the study:

“After cameras were installed, rear-end crashes increased for the entire six-jurisdiction study area… After controlling for time and traffic volume at each intersection, rear-end crash rates increased by an average of 27% for the entire study area.”

“After cameras were installed, total crashes increased.”

“The impact of cameras on injury severity is too close to call.”

“Based only on the study results presented herein and without referencing other studies, the study did not show a definitive safety benefit associated with camera installation with regard to all crash types, all crash severities, and all crash jurisdictions.”

Download The Full Study

3) The Red-Light Running Crisis: Is It Intentional?
Office of the Majority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives
May 2001

This report was prepared by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s staff. It looks at the problems of red-light cameras and how to really deal with traffic-light violations.

Quoted from the study:

“And one should ask the question, if there’s a problem with an intersection, why don’t safety engineers in the field just go out and fix the timing?

In fact, before red light cameras arrived in the United States, that’s exactly what our regulations instructed them to do. If too many people enter on red at an intersection, engineers were supposed to lengthen its yellow time. But in the year that red light cameras first started collecting millions in revenue on our shores, those entrusted with developing our traffic safety regulations dropped the requirement to fix signal timing, instructing engineers to “use enforcement” instead.

Indeed, according to the Federal Highway Administration, these problem intersections serve as a great location to hold a press conference. The agency offers a script for local officials to exploit a tragically mistimed intersection to call for the installation of additional red light cameras and tout their safety benefits.

But none of the reports that are supposed to tell us that red light cameras are responsible safety benefits actually say that. First, they dismiss increases in rear-end collisions associated with red light cameras as “non-significant,” despite evidence to the contrary. Second, they do not actually look at red light intersection accidents. The latest accident study in Oxnard, California, for example, only documents accident reductions “associated with”—not caused by— red light cameras. Although that statement has little scientific value, it does have great marketing appeal if you don’t look too closely.

Every study claiming red light cameras increase safety is written by the same man. Before joining the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), he was a top transportation official in New York City at the time the city began looking into becoming the first jurisdiction in the country to install red light cameras. In other words, the father of the red light camera in America is the same individual offering the “objective” testimony that they are effective.

A similar conflict of interest affects those entrusted with writing safety regulations for our traffic lights. The Institute of Transportation Engineers is actively involved in lobbying for, and even drafting legislation to implement, red light cameras. They are closely tied to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which in turn is funded by companies that stand to profit handsomely any time points are assessed to a driver’s license.

In short, the only documented benefit to red light cameras is to the pocketbook of local governments who use the devices to collect millions in revenue.”

Download The Full Study

4) Investigation Of Crash Risk Reduction Resulting From Red-Light Cameras In Small Urban Areas
Mark Burkey, Ph.D. & Kofi Obeng, Ph.D.
North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University
July 2004

A study prepared by the North Carolina A&T State University’s Urban Transit Institute for the United States Department of Transportation.

Quoted from the study:

“Using a large data set, including 26 months before the introduction of RLCs, we analyze reported accidents occurring near 303 intersections over a 57-month period, for a total of 17,271 observations. Employing maximum likelihood estimation of Poisson regression models, we find that:

The results do not support the view that red light cameras reduce crashes. Instead, we find that RLCs are associated with higher levels of many types and severity categories of crashes.”

Download The Full Study

5) Evaluation of the Red-Light-Camera-Enforcement Pilot Project
Ontario Ministry of Transportation
December 2003

This report from Ontario, Canada’s Ministry of Transportation’s concluded that jurisdictions using photo enforcement experienced an overall increase in property damage and fatal and injury rear-end collisions. The report also concludes that there was an overall reduction in serious accidents and angle collisions. However, a closer look at the data found in this government-sponsored report show that intersections monitored by cameras experienced, overall, a 2 percent increase in fatal and injury collisions compared to a decrease of 12.7 percent in the camera-free intersections that were used as a control group (page 21).

In fact, the non-camera intersections fared better than the camera intersections in every accident category.

Quoted from the study:

“Exhibit 2 indicates the red light running treatments have:

* Contributed to a 4.9 per cent increase in fatal and injury rear-end collisions; and
* Contributed to a 49.9 per cent increase in property damage only rear-end collisions.

The rear-end collision results are similar to findings in other red light camera studies.”

Download The Full Study

This is by no means an exhaustive list. You can find more studies on the NMA website here: Photo Enforcement Studies.

SHARETHIS.addEntry( { title: “Red-Light Cameras Increase Accidents: 5 Studies That Prove It”, url: “http://www.motorists.org/blog/red-light-cameras/red-light-cameras-increase-accidents-5-studies-that-prove-it/” } );

• I’m Against Red Light Cameras

Guy W. Midkiff
February 27, 2008
Red Light Cameras

Recently, when I spoke at the Washington Women Republicans luncheon, the issue of Red Light Cameras came up. My opinion was that I found them intrusive and just one more example of our civil rights being diminished, but if they saved lives then it would be hard to ultimately argue against them. It is not hard to visualize your family being killed by an impaired driving slicing through a red light.

But, none-the-less, there was something that really bothered me, an itch I couldn’t scratch, regarding these lights. First, and foremost, when government has a program that generates cash, then I try to follow the money and see where it ends up and how it is used. Today, I don’t think the City has clearly articulated the transparency of the money trail. The City of Arnold is now being sued over red light cameras and even the City Council members are being named in the suit.

But also, I dare to ask questions, which has riled feathers on more than one occasion. Personally I have become just a little annoyed by the City using the “Safety Card” every time they want to ram through another program or ordinance. (Think $36K light poles, occupancy inspections, traffic quotas, and the pending Camp Street Bridge (or what the locals call the “Walmart Bridge”)

Do I care about safety and the sanctity of life? Heck yes I do care about life. I found it very interesting, though, that one does not have to go far when it comes to finding research on red light cameras. Recently the mayor of St. Peters, Missouri, Shawn Brown, was found guilty of soliciting a bribe for passing a city ordinance regarding red light cameras. He is now facing 20 years in the pokey and a $250,000 fine. The corrupting influence of money should never be underestimated.

Jay Nixon has come out against RLC’s (red light cameras), legislation is pending against them, Alaska actually terminated their RLC’s, not to mention considerable scientific statistical research that flies in the face of the claim that RLC’s improve safety (more on that later). I think one of my biggest complaints against the RLC is that the presumption of innocence is tossed out the window. Presumption of innocence is the corner stone of our legal system and we should think about the unintended consequences before we go monkeying around with these Constitutional Rights. When you came your surprise-o-gram from the City, you will be presumed guilty. It will be up to you to prove your innocence – kinda turns our entire legal system on its rear end.

And now for the eureka piece, the pièces de résistance, the trump of all trump cards: SAFETY. Many communities, which have installed RLC’s, are producing anecdotal data to support their safety argument. These findings are not scientific and are of practically no value. For valid results, large sample sets must be used over a long period of time. It is impossible to install RLC’s, point to a specific trend and say, “Ah ha, RLC’s saves lives.” Please read my blog (click here) on the RLC Myth for more on the scientific study that was conducted by the North Carolina A&T State University which irrefutably dispels the safety claim for RLC’s.

I feel that RLC’s are not good for the community. I think history proves that corruption, conspiracy and controversy mark RLC’s. My opinion is that they are just another extension of the long arm of big brother and is an invasion of your civil rights. And did I mention the money? Some very conservative estimates are that the City of Washington will rake in somewhere around $350,000 per year, PER INTERSECTION! Sure, it’s all about your safety.

DON’T BELIEVE ME. LISTEN TO HOW THE RLC COMPANIES ARE PITCHING THEIR CAMERAS:

Camera Maker Admits Ticketing is Addictive
Cities get addicted to red light camera and speed camera revenue according to the CEO of Affiliated Computer Services.

Lynn BlodgettA top vendor of speed camera and red light camera services told investors that his company represents a great investment opportunity because the cities who use his product cannot resist the steady revenue stream it creates. Lynn Blodgett, CEO of Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), spoke earlier this month to the Technology, Telecom and Internet Conference hosted by the Thomas Weisel Partners investment bank. Blodgett made the pitch that no matter how bad the economy might get, there never be a lack of demand for outsourcing large-scale government programs to ACS.

“As an overall statement, people are typically in tougher economic times,” Blodgett said. “Our clients are typically more attuned to outsourcing and doing more because they need to save money. And so in that way we tend to — we say we’re a good company in good time and we’re a great company in bad times and it’s because the services we provide are mission-critical.”

The most critical programs for state and municipal governments in tough economic times, Blodgett argued, were those that transfer money from taxpayers to the government. He suggested that once a city tries red light cameras, it will never go back.

“The government services that we provide are either funded as part of entitlement programs, or they help generate revenue,” Blodgett said. “I mean, a red light camera system for a city generates a lot of revenue and so they’re not going to cut back on those type of areas in an economically challenged time.”

• Red Light Camera MYTH



Guy W. Midkiff
February 27, 2008
Red Light Camera Myth

The following is the result of a large statistical study done on red light cameras (RLC’s). While many communities make anecdotal claims of magical reductions in accident rates at intersections, these results are most often self-serving and anything but scientific. I am only paraphrasing the entire document of several hundred pages. You are welcomed to go to the North Carolina A&T State University School of Business and Economics to download the full study. (click here to download entire pdf file )

Executive Summary

This paper analyzes the impact of red light cameras (RLCs) on crashes at signalized
intersections. It examines total crashes and also breaks crashes into categories based on both severity (e.g., causing severe injuries or only property damage) and by type (e.g., angle, rear end). Prompted by criticism of the simplistic methods and small data sets used in many studies of red light cameras, we relate the occurrence of these crashes to the characteristics of signalized intersections, presence or absence of RLC, traffic, weather and other variables.

Using a large data set, including 26 months before the introduction of RLCs, we analyze reported accidents occurring near 303 intersections over a 57-month period, for a total of 17,271 observations. Employing maximum likelihood estimation of Poisson regression models, we find that:

The results do not support the view that red light cameras reduce crashes. Instead, we find that RLCs are associated with higher levels of many types and severity categories of crashes.

An overall time trend during the study indicated that accidents are becoming less frequent, about 5 percent per year. However, the intersections where RLCs were installed are not experiencing the same decrease. When analyzing total crashes, we find that RLCs have a statistically significant (p<0.001) and large (40% increase) effect on accident rates. In addition, RLCs have a statistically significant, positive impact on rear-end accidents, sideswipes, and accidents involving cars turning left (traveling on the same roadway).

The one type of accident found to experience a decrease at RLC sites are those involving a left turning car and a car traveling on a different roadway. When accidents are broken down by severity, RLCs were found to have a statistically significant (p<0.001) and large effect (40-50% increase) on property damage only and possible injury crashes. There was a positive, but statistically insignificant estimated effect on severe (fatal, evident, and disabling) accidents.

These results run contrary to the many studies in the RLC literature. Previous studies have sometimes found an increase in rear-end accidents, but often find offsetting decreases in other types of accidents. While this study incorporated many advances in methodology over previous studies, additional work remains to be done. Because accident studies rarely use a true experimental design and data are not perfectly observable, additional careful study of RLCs is warranted to verify our results.

*This is an update to the October 2003 version of this report. Using the latest available data, we include an additional 12 months of accident data. Additionally, several data coding errors were discovered in the original data set, and corrected for this report. Therefore, results from the October 2003 report should be disregarded.

1.1 Problem Statement
Nearly half of all accidents in the U.S. occur at or near intersections (US DOT, 1999, p. 50). Consequently, many studies have been conducted that relate various aspects of intersections to safety and accident rates to develop improvement strategies. One such strategy is automated enforcement of traffic signals using cameras, i.e., red light cameras (RLCs), which has been suggested and used in some cities to reduce red light running. The potential of these cameras in reducing accidents and improving safety have been reported in few studies, with most studies reporting mixed results. For example, Retting et al. (1999a), Retting and Kyrychenko (2002), and Milazzo et al. (2001), using before and after data found RLCs reduce crashes at intersections. On the other hand, Andreassen’s (1995) longitudinal study spanning a 10-year period found reductions in crashes at high accident sites and increases in crashes at low accident sites. McFadden and McGee (1999) add another twist in their review of studies on automated enforcement of red light running.

While accepting reductions in violations and cost savings as benefits, they suggested that improved methodology and more data are needed to validate and quantify the effects of RLCs on crashes, thus casting some doubts on prevailing views on the benefits of RLCs.

__________________________________________________________________________
The following gives one of the best studies I have yet read on RLC’s:

If you haven’t already done so, please read highwayrobbery.net’s Home page

Back to highwayrobbery.net’s Links page

Cong. Armey’s Website & His Report: “The Red Light Running Crisis – Is It Intentional?
___________________________________________________________ Also, if you follow the following link, you will find one of the better arguments against RLC’s. I will caution the reader that the link will take you to an ACLU website, where the data was compiled. As a disclaimer, I have major philosophical differences with this organization, but I do believe the information, there, to be accurate. CLICK HERE

For another report, go to the Washington Post: DC Red Light Cameras fail to Reduce Accidents.