Petition on Iowa City traffic camera, drones invalid, city clerk says

More than 1,000 submitted signatures deemed invalid

A traffic camera at First Avenue and 10th Street NE is among seven installed at Cedar Rapids intersections since 2010. (
A traffic camera at First Avenue and 10th Street NE is among seven installed at Cedar Rapids intersections since 2010. (Matt Nelson/The Gazette)

The effort to ban traffic-enforcement cameras and drones in Iowa City hit a roadblock Monday, but opponents of those devices have one more chance.

The City Clerk’s Office said not enough eligible people signed a petition that would force the City Council to either adopt an ordinance outlawing red-light and speed cameras and drones or to send the matter to voters to decide.

The petition needed to be signed by at least 2,500 registered Iowa City voters. Organizers submitted 3,322 signatures April 1, but City Clerk Marian Karr said Monday that only 2,106 were valid

Petitioners have two days after receiving a mailed certificate of insufficiency from the city to declare their intent to get more signatures, and then they would have 15 more days to try to get enough people to sign the petition.

One of the petition organizers said that notice would be given this afternoon.

“We think we can make up the difference easily,” said Aleksey Gurtovoy of Iowa City.

He and Martha Hampel of Iowa City led the petition drive over the past six months. Gurtovoy said getting signatures from 2,500 registered voters, as opposed to eligible voters, was a tough task during the winter.

They object to an ordinance adopted by a divided City Council a year ago that allows traffic-enforcement cameras in Iowa City.

No cameras are installed yet, however, and none are likely to be for a year as the city waits for the creation of state rules on using the cameras on state routes like many of the in-town streets where Iowa City wants to put them

The ordinance proposed in the petition would ban traffic-enforcement cameras, drones and automatic license-plate recognition systems. The City Council has only considered red-light cameras.

Traffic-enforcement cameras have been ruled constitutional by the Iowa Supreme Court and are operating in several Iowa communities, including Cedar Rapids. But their use has been controversial, with critics doubting the safety benefits and saying the true motivation behind them is the collection of traffic fines.

Backers, though, including Cedar Rapids police officials, say data support safety-improvement claims.

Even with a successful Iowa City petition, the question of whether an initiative or a referendum was being sought would still need to be answered.

The petition organizers, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said they were seeking an initiative by proposing a measure for the City Council to consider. But City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes has characterized it as a referendum that asks the council to reconsider an existing law. A referendum petition must be filed within 60 days of the adoption of the measure in question or not until two years after adoption. The current petition would fall between those periods and not be timely.Dilkes has said she would re-examine the matter with a successful petition. She said Monday that if a petition is deemed sufficient, she would provide a formal opinion to the council.

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