LEAGUE CITY, TEXAS – League City, Texas is violating state law governing the use of proceeds from a red light camera program, according to a local activist who filed an official complaint yesterday. Under state law, a municipality may only use its photo ticketing profit to pay for “traffic safety programs.” League City appears to be using the revenue to create a slush fund for the local police department.
“They went on a spending spree that would make a drunken sailor blush,” Byron Schirmbeck, director of saferbaytown.com told TheNewspaper. “How can you have a program that’s meant to punish lawbreakers when you’re violating the law yourself?”
League City’s camera vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems, issued over $5 million worth of tickets. After the state government and the Australian company took their share, $1.3 million remained in the municipality’s photo enforcement war chest. They spent less than half that amount on “traffic system improvements.”
City documents show the city spent $71,994 from the red light camera program for an air-conditioned “tactical observation platform” used for surveillance in a WalMart parking lot. Another $55,000 went for a fingerprint station; $52,275 went for a crime scene imager; $28,234 on a K-9 unit; $20,000 for video and audio enhancement software; $8400 for body armor; $7800 for sniper rifle scopes; $5342 for cell phone forensic software; $5000 for training-room computers; $3750 for tactical entry rifles; and $3250 for a GPS tracker. Schirmbeck points out that the city knew the purchases were shady because a list of items funded by the red light camera program published on the city’s website omits all of the questionable items.
Schirmbeck raised questions about the purchases in January, and members of the city council agreed there appears to be a legal problem. The city will refund a few of the items and seek an attorney general’s opinion on whether the other purchases are a problem.
“Please review the expenditures the city has made from red light camera revenues,” Councilman Dan Becker wrote in a February 26 email to council members. “I am concerned whether the city is fully in compliance with the requirement ‘only to fund traffic safety programs.’”
Schirmbeck on Wednesday filed a formal complaint over the matter with Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady. He also asked for an investigation into whether the city’s use of public funds on pro-camera advertising on the public access television channel 16 and on the city’s website violates state election law. In November, residents will have a chance to vote on whether to continue the photo ticketing program. Schirmbeck believes the slick video material was produced by Redflex, but the commercials did not disclose their true origin, in violation of state campaign laws.