Iowa City set to repeal traffic-camera law

Two more votes needed for two-year ban to take effect

A red light camera on First Avenue East, facing northbound traffic at the intersection with 10th Street SE. (Liz Martin/
A red light camera on First Avenue East, facing northbound traffic at the intersection with 10th Street SE. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Iowa City likely will be free of red-light and speed cameras for the next two years, but there’s no guarantee that will extend beyond that time frame.

The City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday night on the first consideration to repeal an ordinance it approved last year allowing traffic-enforcement cameras. The proposal also would add a new chapter to City Code that prohibits the use of automatic traffic-surveillance systems, drones and automatic license-plate readers unless a police officer or parking attendant is on the scene.

Two more votes are needed for the changes to take effect.

The council indicated last month it was heading in this direction after a petition sought to either ban the devices or allow the public to vote on their use.

City staffers recommended the council repeal the traffic-camera ordinance because the city does not have any cameras installed yet and likely would not until next year as it waits for the state to develop rules on their use.

The City Council could reconsider the issue two years after the ordinance is repealed. Four of the seven council members and police Chief Sam Hargadine have already said they are interested in eventually using red-light cameras.

That included council member Susan Mims.

“My feeling is it doesn’t necessarily prevent us from doing what council may or may not want to do two years from now,” she said.

Also Tuesday night, the City Council voted in favor of an agreement that eliminates Sunday rides and discounted fares for SEATS, a public transit service for the elderly and people with disabilities. But it came with the caveat that city staff will explore ways to save those services.

City officials have suggested the cuts to save money after Johnson County, which runs the service on contract for Iowa City and Coralville, said it would reduce its financial support.

The cities, along with North Liberty, have been negotiating and often fighting with Johnson County over SEATS for several months. Johnson County officials maintain the county has been subsidizing the cities, a position city officials reject.

About 10 people spoke at the council meeting, all but one of them opposed to Iowa City eliminating Sunday service and half-fares for people who qualify.

Terry Cunningham, addressing the council from his wheelchair, said many people rely on Sunday service to get to work, church and stores and doing away with it would keep them at home as if they were in an institution.

“If you can’t get out and participate, then you’re locked up,” he said.

The council asked staff to search for possible alternatives, but there was no consensus on what members would find acceptable.

Mayor Matt Hayek pushed for the cuts, saying SEATS would not be solvent in the long term without them and noting staff could find no other city in Iowa that offered half-fares.

City Manager Tom Markus was blunter, telling council member Jim Throgmorton, “At the end of the day, Jim, it’s all about money.”

Throgmorton disagreed, saying the city had a moral obligation to help those most in need. He suggested a transition that would more slowly phase out those services over the coming years rather than by this September, as was proposed.

“It’s really a question about what we value,” he said.The city and county, along with Coralville, ultimately must reach an agreement by July 1. Johnson County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Janelle Rettig has already been critical of the possibility of cutting Sunday service and half-fares.

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