CEDAR RAPIDS — The debate over automated traffic cameras has centered on safety versus profit, but a statewide radio personality who calls the cameras a moneymaking speed trap is getting a lot of entertainment value out of a $75 speeding ticket he received this summer.
Simon Conway, who talks politics and more five hours a day on WHO 1040 in Des Moines and WMT 600 in Cedar Rapids, has brought his audience along for the ride as he fights a ticket for going 67 in a 55 mph zone on Interstate 380.
“I am religious about cruise control,” Conway said during his hearing, which he live broadcast to his audience using his smartphone.
“When I am going through the cameras here in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines on 235, I always use my cruise control so I don’t give you people a dime. I didn’t do it. Your machine is wrong.”
Conway, who has criticized traffic cameras for years on his programs and testified before a legislative subcommittee, called for his audience to show up at the hearing this week. Three did.
He claimed the proceedings were done in secret before a “kangaroo court” and he wanted people to see how his due process rights were being trampled.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, who is a weekly guest on the radio program and supports the cameras, also attended the hearing at Conway’s urging.
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The administrative hearing is the first step in the appeals process. Hearings typically are held in private at the Cedar Rapids Police Department before a police officer and a volunteer, who makes the ruling. The volunteer, who was not identified at the hearing Wednesday night, said she was appointed because she knew officers in the department.
Officer Mark Asplund said the hearing is a chance before court to dismiss a ticket for extenuating circumstances.
“My wife is having a baby, something like that,” he said. “If I were to pull over a vehicle speeding and the excuse was, ‘my husband just had a heart attack and I am rushing to the emergency room to be with him,’ there is no way in the world, sir, I would give them a ticket.”
Between 2010 and 2014, more than half of traffic camera ticket appeals were successful — 5,055 dismissed out of 9,972 — according to data from Cedar Rapids.
University of Iowa law professor Arthur Bonfield, who helped write Iowa’s open meetings law, said administrative hearings are not defined as a covered body in the law, they are not subject to Iowa’s administrative procedure act, and ticket recipients have the right to a hearing in court, which may “moot” the due process issues.
“I don’t think those police station hearings in Cedar Rapids are covered by the open meeting law,” Bonfield said.
Conway’s Cadillac was clocked by the camera on I-380 at J Avenue at 9:06 p.m. July 23 on his way from a RAGBRAI event.
Conway denies speeding and told The Gazette he didn’t intentionally get a ticket for a publicity stunt. If it were a stunt, he said. he would have gotten one earlier and in Des Moines, near where he lives.
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Conway and his attorney questioned camera calibration, due process of the hearing and the lawfulness of the program. But Conway couldn’t say at what speed his cruise control was set, although he said it was “substantially” below 67 mph.
The camera is calibrated to snap a picture and issue a ticket at 12 mph over the limit with a 1 mph margin of error.
The hearing officer ruled Conway liable.
“My only thing here is you say you weren’t speeding, but you don’t know how fast you were going,” she said. “I have no proof that you did any different from what the camera said, and the next court can truly decide the rest of it.”
Conway said he hasn’t decided whether he will appeal to court.
Corbett, who hadn’t previously attended an administrative hearing, stood by the process.
“Simon Conway has been outspoken and unapologetic in his opposition to speed cameras,” he said, adding, “Everyone has a right to their point of view.”