May 25, 2011 in City

Court asked to rule on camera votes

Devices opposed in several cities
Associated Press

OLYMPIA – A group from Mukilteo asked the state Supreme Court on Tuesday to rule on the validity of a public vote on red-light traffic cameras in the city.

It’s a case that could have broad implications as red-light camera opponents push ballot measures in several Washington cities, including Monroe, Bellingham, Longview and Wenatchee.

Camera opponents, including frequent initiative sponsor Tim Eyman, collected signatures last year seeking to repeal a Mukilteo ordinance allowing the cameras and require a public vote before the city could use them. The measure passed with 71 percent approval.

The City Council determined the cameras were not a valid initiative topic because the Legislature had granted authority over their use to local legislative bodies, not the voters themselves. Instead of treating the measure as a binding initiative – the way it appeared on the ballot – the City Council considered it an advisory vote by the people. Last month, the council abolished red-light cameras in Mukilteo.

Vanessa Power, a lawyer for a group called Mukilteo Citizens for Simple Government, asked the court Tuesday to rule that the initiative should never have been on the ballot. Nor should the court sanction the City Council’s decision to consider the vote advisory, she said, because it sets a dangerous precedent that might encourage other cities, when faced with legitimate local initiatives, to simply ignore vote results as advisory.

“The concern is that that vote is meaningless and it’s illusory, and that goes to the fundamental core of our democracy,” she said.

A lawyer for the city argued that the decision to treat the measure as advisory was legitimate; otherwise, the ballot measure would have to have been barred entirely, she said.

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