MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The City of Montgomery's controversial automated photographic speeding enforcement system, or speed car cameras, ended at the beginning of the month with the city agreeing to comply with an opinion from the attorney general's office.
Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange had hailed the system as a success in reducing the number of speeders in targeted areas, and said citizens were clamoring to have the cars on their streets. He stood firm that they would continue to be used despite a repeal by the Alabama Legislature of the supporting legal framework.
The city will now shift its focus to motorcycle officers.
"Now all of sudden the fine triples, it goes on your record," the mayor said. "That's what the legislature wanted, and that's what they're going to get because at the end of the day we've got to do things that slow traffic down. It's never been around the revenue."
Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R- District 25) moved successfully near the end of the last session to have the speed camera ordinance repealed. It went into effect on July 1.
Brewbaker said the city tried to continue using the system, claiming the legislature's actions interfered with a contract the city had with American Traffic Solutions, Inc. which handled the camera system.
"There was a contract in place and there needed to be time for the city to make an orderly and graceful exit and so I think that's been accomplished and I'm sure the city will take whatever action is necessary to ensure public safety at dangerous intersections," said Brewbaker.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Luther Strange sent a letter to the City of Montgomery stating his opinion, "that the City must cease operating the system."
Sen. Brewbaker said the city has since reversed its stance on the camera system and is complying with the law. Brewbaker, who is responsible for passing the original legislation that implemented the system, said he's received hundreds of agitated complaints about it. He added that responses since the repeal has been positive.
Some felt the cameras were an abuse of power, as well as a money grab, while others said it deterred speeding, especially in school zones.
The system was met with contention when it was launched five years ago, and even now that it's been repealed.
Mayor Strange says the Legislature's repeal was an "over-reach."
"They're trying to say 'Hey, we're the legislature, and we can dictate to cities what in fact you can and can't do,'" Strange said. "It says we have that right to enforce the traffic laws of the state of Alabama. They don't tell us how to do that, but in this particular case, all the other cities in the state have speed car cameras, still have speed car cameras, but our legislature said 'No, Montgomery can't have cameras,'" the mayor went on.
Strange briefly tried to fight the new law.
"The attorney general sent a letter to the city saying they had to cease and desist," Sen. Brewbaker explained. "They could no longer use the speed cameras. So as of now, no more speed cameras in Montgomery in marked police cars."
Strange says he was the one who asked the attorney general for his opinion.
"I've been friends with Luther Strange for a long, long, long time, and I didn't want to put ourselves in a conflict in any way," said Strange.
Senator Brewbaker said the initial legislation, passed in 2011, was the most unpopular thing he's done in his 20 years in state government, and they had to find another way to address speeding.
The city took the position that:
A: It didn't need legislative approval
B: the Legislature's action in effect, interfered, and unlawfully interfered with an existing contract.
That would include the existing contract Montgomery has with American Traffic Solutions Inc., and Strange said the city will probably be sued by ATS for breach of contract.
"If they sue us, we'll have to turn around and sue the State," Strange explained, "because they're the ones who put us in this, and I don't think it's fair for our citizens to pay $200,000, $300,000 penalty, getting out of a contract the Legislature says you can't be in."