Letter to the Editor – Photo Radar Vote

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Good Day, I was wondering if anyone would have answers to my questions regarding the town vote on photo radar in Morinville?

1/ Is this a legal vote? If so, does it have to abide by the laws and rules (i.e. Elections Canada / Alberta) regarding voting procedures?

2/ Who is watching over this vote to ensure it is run fairly and legally?

3/ I noticed the Town of Morinville purchased a booth at the Trade Fair over the weekend where taxpayers could learn more about photo radar. Who paid for this booth? Was it paid for with taxpayer money? If so, is this legal? Did the town of Morinville rent a booth for those who disagree with photo radar so both sides of the story could be presented?

I would be interested to see the answers to the above by someone in authority!

Thank you

Bill Graham

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12 Comments

  1. Bill, you ask some very legitimate questions, and unfortunately, I am not that someone of authority who you are looking for. The reason I have submitted this comment, is not to campaign for one side or the other, but to ask the same questions you have and to encourage others to do the same. I can see that 111 people have read your question, yet I see no answer in the comments.

    • I would have though the ITS contractor would have perhaps promoted their business at the trade show but agree with Bill that the town should have left this venue alone. The pack of gum was a nice touch for the handout though. I note Lisa Holmes continues to threaten increased taxes should the photo radar program be scrapped. I have followed the photo radar concerns since its inception and it was clear at the beginning that revenue from this program was not to be relied upon by the town as expected revenue. The former mayor made it well known at the start of the contract that the monies generated would go into other communities programs for our youth and seniors etc. I would support a photo radar enforcement that is run by the town and its own bylaw officers the current system is unethical as there is no direct supervision of the contract employees and they are only compensated if they issue tickets. I have attached an earlier summary that this paper would not publish due to the length but it addresses several of my concerns..

      I would like to comment on the recent article posted in the Tuesday February 25th edition of the Free Press titled “Photo radar increases safety in Morinville according to operator of the system.” Having worked in enforcement in Alberta for 27 years I am a supporter of any enforcement initiatives that makes our communities safer. I feel the public has been kept in the dark by our provincially elected officials relating to why we only see photo radar in municipalities versus rural Alberta. Alberta municipalities saw reductions in provincial funding in the late nineties. The province developed the Automated Traffic Enforcement Guidelines to allow municipalities to generate additional revenue within the boundaries of the municipalities. Is this a concession on the part of our provincial government to allow the municipalities this enforcement initiative but not to allow this for the balance of Alberta? We have all been told time and time again that this is about safety not about revenue. If this is the case then why is the province of Alberta not implementing this enforcement initiative provincially? If you look at British Columbia where the province brought in a provincial program operated by RCMP it failed due to public pressure. The RCMP provincial photo radar programs had trained RCMP staff operating photo radar units in publically identified problem areas. The revenue generated by these officers went to the municipalities and the province. There was no monetary benefit to the RCMP or officers for generating more revenue. Sherwood park council opted out of their municipal photo radar program as they felt person to person contact with its officers was more beneficial than a ticket 4 weeks after the infraction by mail.

      It was five years ago that ITS came to Morinville. It started as a one man operation and has grown to a multimillion dollar business with 20 plus employees. Unlike the program that operated in BC with regular RCMP personal the program in Alberta allowed anyone to start an enforcement business? The program in BC had officers operating there systems with no less than 1 year of police training which included training in the use of discretion. I have included the word discretion because what I am seeing in our community is the lack of discretion in relation to this enforcement initiative. Darrell Knapp, Vice President of the MCOP is correct in stating “Our community is safer by reducing speeding.” The traffic safety act in Alberta lists speeding as being anywhere from 1 kilometer over the limit. So if we go by the book then every Albertan speeds on a daily basis. Discretion is where there are acceptable tolerances as to when a ticket will be issued. When I first operated radar in the late seventies the general accepted level for enforcement in a municipality was 10 miles per hour or 16 Kph over the posted limit. On highways the tolerance levels were higher based on traffic flow etc. I have noted that the tolerance levels have decreased since the implementation of photo radar in our community and will continue when the expected revenue is not met.

      With the development of the Automated Photo Radar Guidelines came the need for training of the operators/contractors. In Alberta the training of these contractors is less than 40 hours of operational training. There are several private contractors operating in Alberta and they all submit their bids to the municipalities for contracts. ITS won the contract 5 years ago. The problem I have is how ITS is compensated. The break down for ITS is as follows: for every dollar of ticket revenue, 40% goes to the contractor, 40 % for the town with 20% going to the province. With this system in place the contractor only gets paid if tickets are issued. I have personally challenged three of ITS operators as their method of enforcement or tactics defied any of the training I had received during my 27 years of enforcement. The dates and times of these questionable ITS operations were provided to our former town council which included our newly elected mayor. When I identified my concerns to the previous council I had hoped our council would look into ITS to review the three specific concerns I had identified to determine if residents of Morinville had been unjustly targeted. To date I have never received a response from the town of Morinville or the Solicitor General’s office. As a resident of Morinville I was shocked to learn that there was no system in place to have complaints against ITS investigated. When I contacted the town of Morinville’s former manager who oversaw this program I was provided Bruce Kaminsky’s contact number (Owner of ITS) to deal with my complaint and advised to attend the RCMP office. When I attended the RCMP office I had several conversations with senior members of the detachment including the second in command and I was advised that the program had nothing to do with the RCMP and that I should go back to the town. I also found out that the RCMP staff was inundated with people who were routinely directed by the town to their office over photo radar complaints which were time consuming for the detachment staff. The former detachment commander had actually created a formal letter for people attending the RCMP directing them back to the town office. This was frustrating as there was finger pointing with no action being taken on either side or no formal investigative complaint process. I believe this approach was done as most people in Morinville would walk away frustrated. I ended up attending the Morinville Detachment where I met with the former detachment commander. I expressed my concerns over the fact that people were being diverted from the town to the detachment then back to the town as I was concerned over the poor image the RCMP were being given over this. The detachment commander alluded to the fact the town was responsible from the administration of the program and the complaint process. Shortly after this meeting I obtained a copy of the Alberta Photo Radar Guidelines which are available on the internet and worth the read.

      I scheduled another meeting with former detachment commander and provided him with a copy of the guidelines. I was shocked when he advised me that he supported the current practices of the ITS contractors and referred to the guidelines as guidelines not law. We discussed my other concerns to no avail. I found it disturbing that he did not take this position when I first came to him and that it was only when I produced the guidelines that he let his position on the guidelines be known. After this meeting I looked into the zones approved by the detachment commander and identified 3 of the 20 that did not have appropriate signage to conduct enforcement. I presented these concerns to a town council meeting and the appropriate signs were erected. Unfortunately many Morinville area residents had already been ticketed in those areas and not compensated. Detachment commanders throughout Alberta are required to follow the Alberta Automated Photo Radar Guidelines and to submit quarterly reports to the Solicitor General. The locations and all operational requirements for the contractors are managed by RCMP detachment commanders throughout Alberta. As these programs are relatively new I am lead to believe that there is currently no RCMP policy in place for detachment commanders to follow as it relates to these contractors. I note Morinville has a relatively new detachment commander so hopefully he will adhere to the provincial guidelines if this program is to continue.

      My concerns over the Photo radar enforcement program in Morinville include the lack of accountability on the part of the shareholders, the lack of enforcement in the areas identified by the traffic study (Public Safety), and the unethical manner in which our contractor is compensated. As I mentioned from the onset I have no problem with photo radar if those involved follow the provincial guidelines. There was a substantial cost associated with the development of the Alberta Automated Photo Radar Guidelines and as a tax payer it is frustrating when the guidelines are being ignored. The enforcement statistics in Morinville have shown that ITS only operates where they generate revenue but do not target the other problem areas which have been identified. I would recommend the following changes.

      1. Have an accountable process in place for legitimate complaints for area residents to voice their concerns whether at the town office or RCMP but not rely on the ITS contractor. Keep statistics on the types and number of complaints so council will have the tools to make changes as needed.
      2. Ensure enforcement is conducted as per the guidelines as it relates to transition zones. Work inside the zones not the first and last 50 feet of the zones. Check with the city of St Albert, City of Edmonton and other managers who oversee the programs in their communities as I have done and follow their model of enforcement. (They ensure that their operations fall within the provincial guidelines and that their operators are located well inside the speed zones not targeting vehicles at the start or end of the zones.)
      3. Pay ITS or any other contractor an hourly negotiated rate for services provide. This would allow control over the areas of enforcement based on public complaints and traffic collision statistics. This would eliminate the perception of a cash cow as it would be a paid service which will still generate revenue. There would be a guaranteed income for the contractors and not the present percentage we now have in place.

      We will have a public vote on the photo radar issue in April. Our current mayor has alluded that if the photo radar contractor is terminated then the town will lose $375,000.00 in revenue. The way I see it the town is losing the 40 percent it is paying our contractor. $375,000.00 would pay for the town to have its own equipment and lease vehicles on a rotating basis. The town could hire Commissionaires who are trained to operate these vehicles and systems. St Albert sub contracts the Commissionaires to operate the equipment they use. The Commissionaires’ get paid for the service they provide based on an hourly rate. In closing I have always been of the opinion that if you abuse what you have then you lose it.

      Kevin Wedick
      Morinville resident

  2. The mayor and the town councillers were available at the trade show booth you noticed all weekend: why didn’t you ask them your questions then?

  3. Hello Bill,

    Perhaps you should have attended the open house several weeks ago or visited the information booth at the Leap into Spring Expo. I attended both and had all my questions answered to my satisfaction. Your questions are leading and it appears you are trying to score points instead of get information…

    1) The fact you ask this question leads me to believe that you do not feel it is a legal vote. Perhaps a lawyer would love to hear your position instead of making empty accusations?
    2) I imagine the electoral officer for the town runs the election. Perhaps they might be a good contact for you.
    3) The booth was at the far end of the town of Morinville booth and they were not selling one position or the other. In fact, I visited there on Saturday and spoke to an informative Peace Officer who gave me some excellent information.

    Aside from this, I have talked to some excellent volunteers on the Morinville Traffic Safety Committee and RCMP officers in Morinville at other times that absolutely support photo radar in town. These people are the experts that either work or volunteer their time to keep Morinville safer and they agree with it as a form of enforcement.

  4. Crystal, the town of Morinville was at this trade show to extol the benefits of Morinville! I was not going to get into a bun fight at a public venue. The reason I asked these questions was that it was advertised in the Morinville News that the town of Morinville would be able to answer all the questions on why photo radar was good for Morinville, this was indicated by the traffic safety committee public members THIS IS NOT AND WAS NOT THE INTENT OF THE TRADE SHOW! Photo radar should NOT have been on the table at the trade show! The town of Morinville paid for their booth with taxpayers money. Well, at least 10 % of those taxpayers showed that they opposed photo radar in Morinville and yet they did not have a venue to give their side of the story and I am sure that they would not have approved the town using their money to pay for a platform to give ONE SIDE of this story! I am livid that the town took taxpayer money for this reason and I think it is illegal and I think that the Province of Alberta should be investigating this.

    • So you are making accusations. It sounds as though your anger got in the way of asking the questions you were looking for. If that 10% wanted to organize themselves there was nothing stopping them. I went to the booth (unlike you) and it was not promoting a No vote. Unlikely anyone will change their minds now. I look forward to the results tomorrow regardless of the outcome.

  5. Susan, if every citizen driving through Morinville slows down and there are no more speeding tickets in Morinville, are you willing to pay my share of the taxes that will skyrocket? I’m sure that peace officer gave you excellent information on why photo radar should REMAIN in Morinville! Photo radar was introduced in Morinville to pay for a community center, not enhance public safety! Why is it that 95% of the money from photo radar fines goes towards paying for the community center and yet the town stance is that photo radar is all about safety! Sorry, I’m not buying that! I agree photo radar has a place in traffic safety but it is being totally abused here in Morinville. Apparently, we need a new arena so now there is talk of a red light camera at the only intersection in town with traffic lights! Where will it end, next they will be fining us for leaving our garbage containers out past a certain time limit, oh wait, that is on the books too! How sad is that?

    • Bill I think you may have missed the fact that over half of the tickets issued are not Morinville residents. These are visitors to Morinville that are breaking the law!

      If photo radar is still around tomorrow I can honestly say that I hope we continue to see a decrease in tickets issued. I have absolutely no problem enforcing the law and using fines to pay for the services we want in town. If fines decrease to zero then so be it but not likely. A smooth running community creates bylaws and then enforces them like garbage cans.

  6. As we all know, the photo radar vote will end with photo radar staying in Morinville. that is a given. After a very aggressive campaign by the town (holding a town hall in the very building that is at the center of this whole debate was a nice touch, who paid for the hall rental by the way?) I cannot see the citizens voting any other way. Every interview I have read about this situation always plays up safety, safety, safety and always ends with “by the way, this photo radar brings in $ 250 – $ 350 K a year that is already in the budget to pay for the community center!” The residents of Morinville, who have been taxed to death over the last decade (my taxes have doubled in the last 13 years ), are being bombarded with the threat of a major increase in taxes should photo radar be thrown out! So, those who are living pay to pay and those who are retired and/or living on a fixed income are, of course, going to vote to keep photo radar. Politicians will say what they must to get what they want and then will do an about turn after the fact. That’s politics. I find the handling of this whole photo radar vote very unethical and, in my opinion, appearing to border on being illegal. Where is it going to end?

  7. Susan, I think it is you who has missed the fact, Bill asked 3 simple questions which in my oppinion were legitimate. He asked for someone with authority to answer them. I for one would like to see them answered here in print, that is why they were asked in print, and not at the trade show or open house. As this is election day, I am not going to campain one way or the other. I do however disagree with your comment about a smooth running community. A community which creates a massive amount of By laws, and then enforces them with zero tolerance is a police state, pure and simple.

  8. I might add, if most or even half of those who are receiving tickets are non residents….does this promote the town? Or rather does it drive people out? Good job town! Perhaps looking at those who are involved in accidents and cross referencing them with speed infractions would show us a better picture of this so called ‘safety’ that radar apparently brings. Also, if revenues are FOR safety why does the town not improve these unsafe areas with the funds? Oh right, because they have a building to pay for. Properly painted lines, fixed sidewalks and marked crosswalks aren’t nearly as unsafe as that debt the town has. Or we can scrap the whole sham and employ an officer to patrol rather than a man behind a camera. This would bring less crime in general, perhaps snag those real criminals like the drunk drivers and those lovely folks breaking into your vehicles. Perhaps trust that the average soccer mom truly isn’t a criminal on your streets.

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