CITY HALL — Aldermen tried to clean up a longtime snafu in red-light and speed-cam tickets Monday by amending a city ordinance on automated enforcement.
According to Corporation Counsel Steve Patton, in testimony Monday before the Finance Committee, for years the city failed to send out a second violation notice to those receiving red-light and speed-camera tickets, as called for by the original ordinance. Last year, the city amended that so that it no longer had to send a second notice, in keeping with state laws. Early red-light violations, meanwhile, had passed a statute of limitations and were off the books.
From 2010-2015, Patton said, the city simply determined that violations had occurred after a first notice was sent out and went unanswered. Half the violations during that time were paid immediately, on first notice, but he estimated that the other half, 1.5 million notices, would need to be sent to the others who never received a second notice, involving 1.9 million tickets.
Patton said those drivers would now get an extra chance to contest those violations. Even if they didn't win those appeals, they'd potentially have the $100 late fee doubling the fine wiped off or reimbursed.
"This is not a settlement," Patton said. Instead, he called it "a second bite of the apple with all the rights these folks had initially."
Additionally, he said from 2012-2015 the city exercised a 20-day late period, instead of the 25-day pay period set in the original ordinance. That, he said, caused about 5,000 drivers to be assessed illegal late fees. They'll be reimbursed, he added, at an estimated cost of $500,000 to the city. They'll be informed by a notice from the comptroller, with 60 days after that to request a reimbursement.
Patton estimated that the city would lose $700,000 in correcting the other errors involving the lack of a second notice, but that would be dwarfed by a potential $200 million loss if all those 1.9 million tickets were declared null and void.
That was the position taken by attorneys Myron Cherry and Jacie Zolna, who specialize in red-light and speed-camera cases. They said they have a case pending arguing just that, that those drivers should be exonerated because the city didn't properly apply its own ordinance.
Cherry called Patton's proposal an "ex post facto law."
Zolna compared himself to Michael Jordan, saying the city was trying to put a Dikembe Mutombo in the way to block their suit, but they were going to go in for a slam dunk on the city in any case.
Aldermen, however, ignored their warnings and approved the measure by a voice vote in the Finance Committee. It now heads for final approval by the full City Council on Wednesday.