ST. CHARLES COUNTY — A Missouri appeals court has upheld a referendum that prevents the use of red-light cameras in St. Charles County.
The decision to uphold a trial court ruling was unanimous at the state Court of Appeals panel. The court validated a 2014 St. Charles County charter amendment that bans automated ticketing machines. The amendment passed with 73 percent of voters in favor for the referendum.
The situation came about after St. Charles County Council developed Ordinance No.14-44, a proposed amendment to the county charter that would prevent the use of red-light cameras. The voters approved the amendment with a vote of 72.6 percent for and 27.4 percent against.
The amendment had been challenged by politicians in St. Peters, Lake St. Louis and O’Fallan, who were hoping to have the vote nullified. Allegedly, they were prompted by Australian camera firm Redflex Traffic Systems. The plaintiffs argued that the charter amendment should not apply because municipalities have the legal right to monitor their streets.
O’Fallon has never had them (red-light cameras). City Council is dead set against them. From our standpoint, the case had absolutely nothing to do with red-light cameras,” Tom Drabelle, O’Fallon’s communications director, told the St. Louis Record. “Our interest in this was purely to protect the city’s rights to enforce its own traffic laws.”
Lake St. Louis’ City administrator Paul Markworth agreed.
“It comes down to authority over municipal streets,” he said, adding they were expecting to talk the situation over with the aldermen before deciding on a course of action.
The lawsuit was filed by Jim Pepper and Pamela Fogarty and the cities of St. Peters, Lake St. Louis and O’Fallon. They named St. Charles County and the director of elections of St. Charles County as the defendants. Carl Bearden and Dan Rakers had also supported the amendment and were later added as defendants.
The plaintiffs sought an injunction to prevent the charter amendment from being put in place.
In a summary judgement the trial court upheld the charter amendment.
“The trial court concluded that the Charter Amendment does not violate Article VI, sections 18(a), 18(b) and 18(c) of the Missouri constitution and is, therefore, valid and enforceable,” court documents stated.
In the appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the trial court erred and challenged the authority of the charter amendment. They claimed that the amendment invaded the province of the judiciary and questioned the validity of the election where the referendum was passed.
However, Circuit Court Judge Dan Pelikan found the charter amendment was permitted under the Missouri Constitution.
The ruling will be important to charter communities that look to defend their authority in municipalities.
Judge Lawrence E. Mooney wrote on behalf of the appeals court that while cities have the authority over regulation of traffic on their streets it does not mean they have exclusive control over mechanisms that regulate the traffic.
“The charter amendment here does not seek to regulate traffic on city streets, but addresses how the regulations may be enforced,” he wrote. He said that if each city was allowed to develop its own way of using red-light cameras, drivers might find different practices.
“A driver passing from city to city would never know what he or she might confront without researching multiple municipal red-light camera ordinances,” Mooney wrote.
Therefore, Mooney concluded, the “voters of St. Charles County have a broader interest in protecting the welfare of the traveling public than do the legislative bodies of the individual municipalities within the county."