Legal opinion raises speed camera issue

Funds collected by ticketing motorists via mail after their speed was caught by hidden police officers using hand-held cameras now will be used to help give elected officials in Girard handsome pay raises.

Girard city council this week approved raises for officeholders ranging between 6.5 percent and 7 percent at the beginning of the next term of office. Those increases will be funded, in part, by the city’s general fund. The remainder comes from street, water and sewer funds, according to Auditor Sam Zirafi.

At the same meeting in which the raises were approved on Monday, council also voted to reallocate funds generated through the traffic cameras, sending 50 percent of the ticket profits to the general fund. Another 30 percent of the speed camera revenue goes to streets, 13 percent to safety forces and now 7 percent goes to recreation.

Girard Mayor Jim Melfi said the city collected $550,000 in traffic camera revenue last year.

Effective January 2020, the start of their next terms in office (Ohio law prohibits elected officials from receiving mid-term raises), members of Girard city council and council president will receive 6.5 percent raises. The mayor, law director and auditor will receive 7 percent raises.

The city’s safety service director also will receive a 7 percent raise, but since he is not an elected official, his increase will take effect next month.

Council voted to increase the pay of council members to $8,100. While some would argue that’s really only $27 more per month, the increase is significant because it puts their compensation above the state threshold to qualify them for participation in the Ohio Public Employee Retirement System, a highly sought-after pension benefit. Through OPERS, council members now may gain years of service that contribute to retirement plans.

Fourth Ward Councilman Thomas Grumley voted “no” on the increase for council and council president, saying he was uncomfortable with increasing pay simply to meet the minimum OPERS eligibility.

Bravo to him!

The raises and other use of the traffic camera revenue certainly begs the question of whether the traffic cameras really are just policing for profit.

More proof of just how improper it is to use police powers to raise millions of dollars for local government spending may come in a legal opinion issued just last month by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in the 2017 lawsuit. In the case, Alison Patricia Taylor sued the city of Saginaw, Michigan, which was using the process of chalking motorists’ tires to identify those who have exceeded time limits on public parking.

In that case, the court found the act of chalking tires to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Now, at first glance, the case may appear to be widely different from speed camera operations. But consider this statement in the court’s April 22 opinion:

“Because the purpose of chalking is to raise revenue, and not to mitigate public hazard, the city was not acting in its ‘role as (a) community caretake(r).'”

So, after Girard handed out pay raises, and allocated the traffic camera revenue for recreational use, among other city uses, couldn’t the same question be raised here?

Is the true purpose of hand-held speed cameras to mitigate public hazard or is it simply to raise revenue?

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