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City gives green light to red-light tyranny

Michael Swickard

Michael Swickard

Experience hath shown that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny. - Thomas Jefferson

Las Cruces recently gave a green light to red light tyranny. Citizens are angry at what the city wants to do to those who do not pay red light camera fines. Also, citizens are upset because the story was picked up by national news organizations and comedians. It casts the city in a very bad light.

It started several years ago with a political move against the local, vibrant home building industry. At the time there were well over a thousand houses a year built, which poured money hand over fist into the coffers of the city government. The city gladly spent said money hand over fist.

Then a new progressive slate of anti-growth and anti-business city leaders was elected. The once vibrant building industry cratered with thousands of industry people being put out of work. This happened primarily because of the efforts of city leaders to reign in the industry along with national issues constricting building financing.

But the city government needs for ever-expanding amounts of money did not decrease. The city got fat on building revenue, so other sources of revenue were needed. The red-light camera scam was adopted. Oddly, it was adopted just as other cities were discarding their red-light systems.

The obligatory discussions were brisk, but adoption was a foregone conclusion given the financial needs of the city. Citizen input was solicited and ignored. It was never put to a vote of the citizens.

Abusing citizens

The legal sticking point was how to collect on the tickets. Since no police officer witnessed the infraction, the collection had to be administrative rather than criminal. Therein is the rub. Some people refused to pay. The city saw a pile of money glimmering from unpaid fines.


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Recently Albuquerque disbanded its red-light camera system. But the City of Las Cruces last week decided tyranny was in order. Those who do not pay red-light camera fines will find their water and natural gas turned off. The city claims they are forced to get rough with the citizens. Now, my air conditioner requires water to work. They intend to turn off my air conditioning going into the summer heat season. How reasonable is that?

This action confirms that red light cameras are principally a money-maker. If the city wanted to stop a behavior, why would they also count on the money from the tickets? At some point there should be no offenders. But if you sign a contract with a firm that must be paid, you are counting on the tickets.

The city is abusing citizens one at a time because they know that if they try to abuse citizens in a group there is too much pushback. Individual citizens subjected to the full tyranny of the city must submit.

State intervention needed

Know this: the City of Las Cruces has no business being involved in utilities if they can shut off the utilities for reasons outside of the delivery of service. The Public Regulation Commission needs to take all utilities away from them. The city has shown it is an unworthy steward of the public trust.

Likewise, the leadership of Las Cruces must go; they are not worthy of the trust the citizens put in them when they placed the leadership in authority. It is time for the State of New Mexico to take over the city management. Taking away the ability to cool a home in the heat of summer could lead to inadvertent citizen deaths. The citizens are being put at mortal risk by the leadership’s shortsighted use of tyranny to satisfy their need for money. Hopefully, the state can restore the right of citizens to receive their life-preserving utilities.

Like most wrongdoers who are caught, the leadership of Las Cruces can place themselves in a rehab clinic for leaders who just cannot keep from embracing tyranny. Maybe after they are successfully discharged and are certified to not be attracted to tyranny they can play some minor role in the city again.

However, some people say once a person of tyranny, always a person of tyranny.

Swickard is co-host of the radio talk show News New Mexico, which airs from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on a number of New Mexico radio stations and through streaming. His e-mail address is michael@swickard.com.

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20 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. IP, I have substantial agreements with your argument against the light cams, and I agree with a lot of what the author says regarding the system, despite his silly theories about those ‘dern progressive types ruining the building industry.  But should there be Redflex cams or shouldn’t there is another question entirely.  It’s a debate that will likely be loud when the Redflex contract is up in a couple years.

    Right now the law is the law, until it’s overturned by the courts or the city government.  People should pay the fines they owe, and they’re free to vote against city officials in the next election.

    And despite the near hysterical speculation about ”inadvertent citizen deaths” people seem to be paying attention and paying fines.  I think that’s the main point of the threat to shut off utilities, isn’t it?    As of the first of May, only four vehicle owners have gotten letters and three have made arrangements to pay up.  One offender noted in the paper was a man who said his daughter had run up all 12 tickets (!) and that she had made arrangements to pay.  She presumably won’t be driving Daddy’s car to any of her three new jobs… or to remedial drivers training classes.

    After moving here I discovered that heading into an intersection when the light turns green is asking for a T bone, bloody rare.  I saw two nasty accidents within a couple years and the aftermath of numerous others.  Also dodged a couple by hitting the brakes as some idiot came sailing thru the red light.  So I wouldn’t mind seeing a dozen of these things installed around town.  At least until the contract is up. If it breaks the “floor it when you see amber” attitude I think that would be great, regardless of how much money is collected. 

  2. Well said Mr. Marks, and you are correct in your memory of regulations on PNM when it was both a gas and electric utility, and many other states also do this as well.

  3. IcarusPhoenix:


    You asked “While the PRC may lack the legal authority, does the city of Las Cruces actually have it either?  Does a municipality have the legal right to shut down utilities provided by and paid for to a private entity, particularly for a completely-unrelated infraction?”

    There are three different questions there.  To clarify:  (1) the PRC does not have the power to seize control of a municipal utility (but see what I wrote earlier about a citizen petition and vote).   (2) The PRC does have legal power to prohibit the utilities that we regulate from engaging in practices such what is proposed in Las Cruces.   To the best of my recollection, when PNM owned both the electric and gas utilities, we prohibited the company from disconnecting one service solely because the other was past-due (e.g., if your electric bill was current, but your gas wasn’t, they could disconnect your gas but not your electricity).    

    Turning to question (3), can the City of Las Cruces legally disconnect utilities because of unpaid civil fines, the answer would require a fair amount of legal research.  Assuming there is no statutory language preventing this, then it would become a constitutional question under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments (due process and equal protection).   

    Usually, matters like this are best resolved through the local political process, starting with constituents communicating their opinions to their elected officials.  One of the reasons why the state utility commissions generally don’t have oversight power over utilities operated by local governments is the expectation that elected local government officials will be responsive to customer/citizen preferences about utility operations.

    JM 

  4.    Some additional questions for Mr. Swickard would be when did he abandon his advocacy for personal responsibility in one’s life for what happens to them due to their own actions, and how does he square the idea that those who accepted their responsibility to pay the fines are totally left out of his equation? I guess if you accept responsibility for your actions and pay up you are just a sucker. The more I think about it the more obvious it becomes that Mr.Swickard missed the mark by a mile on this one. I can’t wait to read his next column on personal responsibility and the evils of allowing some citizens to suffer the consequences of their own actions while others are rescued by the entitlement government. Let’s see him square the circle on that contradiction.  His is not an unusual position. Every day there are columns written in both the mainstream, liberal, “drive-by”, conservative, “faux” and other press which make the same errors in logic. Using faulty reasoning to discuss unrelated and non-causal issues. Again, I’d love to read his explanation of personal responsibility in light of his advocacy for state intervention in the matter.

  5. Heath:

    Love this site but just can’t contribute to it while you continue to publish Dr. Swickard.  I realize you are endeavoring to represent a broad range of views, but his columns fall into a category of their own . . . and not a good category. 

  6. whaussamen – excellent points. Interesting how it too boils down to individuals who are meant to serve the People.

    otis – sorry it is not me who missed the point, tis you.

  7. whaussamen:
     
    The same questions were asked many years ago about why APD seemed equally willing to turn their duties over to a private entity with no legal standing to perform those duties, and answers were equally unforthcoming.
     
    otis:
     
    You just get used to that and learn to ignore it; for Qui Tam, every commentary thread somehow magically leads back to an excuse to whine about Gary King.
     

  8. What an interesting discussion about how Las Cruces fails to enforce its’ City traffic codes.  Right or wrong enforcement methodology there is a serious problem with people regularly running red-lights.  It is rare that someone is not illegally in an intersection when the traffic lights change. One must be very careful about entering an intersection and waiting for the opposing traffic to clear when lights change.  

    Enforcement of the traffic codes legally is delegated to the Las Cruces Police Department and is under the purview of City leadership.  

    Why is LCPD unable or unwilling to muster a significant effort to adequately address the problem of people running red lights?  Why are City leaders not adequately using their legally designated department to enforce these codes?

  9.     Qui Tam is missing the point. By a very wide margin. The people he/she lists are not in the same category as the one’s in this discussion unless they have been legally found to owe money and have repeatedly refused to pay.  It’s a distinction quite large.  Were any of the people who he/she lists  delinquent in a legally imposed fine then the question would be valid. As it stands the inference is false that they should be subject to having utilities cut off.

  10. I guess traffic violations are more serious than fraud, taxpayer abuse, extortion, grand theft, perjury, probation violation, election law violation, embezzlement, witness and evidence tampering, conspiracy, misuse of public funds and other duly prosecuted and unduly prosecuted felony acts.

  11. Did PRC Jerome Block find his water and natural gas turned off? How about SoS Mary Herrera? SoS Rebecca Vigil Giron? Sheriff Tommy Rodella? Sheriff Greg Solano? Judge Murphy? the coke head Judge? Eric Serna? State Treasurer Robert Vigil? Manny Aragon? Housing Authority Vincent Gallegos? State Treasurer Michael Montoya? Carol Sloane? Kimberly Colbert? Police Chief Nick Balido? LV School Superintendent Joe Baca? Roberta Vigil? or AG Gary King for campaign finance?

    hmmmm.

  12. Here is what I said May 10, 2011 and nothing has changed.
    http://www.topix.com/forum/county/dona-ana-nm/TUA6PR5D77I93EDIP 

     The program between Redflex Traffic Systems and the City of Albuquerque is a public-private partnership; is it a conspiracy?

    Here is what I believe public-private partnership means:
    Public-Private Partnerships – when private industry provides public services for profit. The original taxes for the services remain in place, but a duplicative “service for FEE” structure is added. It is FASCISM, and it should NOT be considered as a solution to the State’s budget woes. It promotes monopolies and destroyes small business. If the stakeholder is not a shareholder, he has no voice. In most cases the FEES are FINES and the PPP (ex Red-Flex) is the outsourced law efforcers. Here, Red-Flex issues tickets, and your taxes pay for the real cops to bootyour car or arrest you. The only reason the program was losing $30,000 per month is because APD has not yet begun to perform their role.Imagine how many specialty cops you could have. Cops for education. Cops for septic tanks. Camera Cops. Recycling Cops. Water Cops. Every one of them having the authority to FINE the citizen and call the real cops to take you away.These organizations listed below are very likely all PPPs.Friedman RecyclingChildren’s Reading FoundationNew Mexico Business Round TableNew Mexico Early Childhood Development PartnershipNew Mexico Voices for ChildrenNM Assoc. for the Education of Young ChildrenUnited Way of Santa Fe County, children’s projectDoes anybody know of other PPPs that are being kept secret

  13.   Well, well, well. Lookee here. Mr.Swickard is advocating for Big Government. Intrusive government. He prefers the heavy hand of the state to local control. The city council was elected by the citizens. It’s called democracy. I don’t hear Mr.Swickard advocating for removal by local citizens. He wants his party, his homies, his, his, his to come save Las Cruces from their own elected officials. What have they done that is illegal? Nothing. But Mr.Swickard prefers the overthrow of a city council he doesn’t like to an election. How many times have we heard Mr. Swickard opine that “that’s what elections are for”? What ever happened to the conservative idea of local control? Local initiative? Home rule? Just words? It’s okay for others but not for Las Cruces? The city has stated on a number of occasions that those owning fines can make payment arrangements and keep their utilities from being shut off. Does Mr.Swickard now advocate that citizens ignore lawful fines because running a red light and being photographed so doing irritates him and therefore should be discounted? I love it. I love the idea that a self-professed conservative who is relentless in his espousal of what is wrong with ‘Merica is Big Government now finds it convenient to call for the jackboots from Santa Fe to come down and oust the legally elected city council. When did he develop such an admiration for the way state government works? I don’t recall his advocacy for state government to come run the affairs of cities who are operating well within legal limits when it was not his party in power. Or am I being cynical and skeptical? I’m just so amused to see this about face and his call for Big Government to come to the rescue. Subtle he is not.

  14. desertdawg:
     
    Rare though it is for me to agree with Dr. Swickard about anything (and you’ll note that in agreeing I decided to ignore the bizarre “it’s all the progressives’ fault” rhetoric that you pointed out in order not to confuse the matter), the objection isn’t to enforcing laws; the objection is to turning over law enforcement to a private company that is not being bound to basic strictures of due process, and then attempting to enforce that company’s fiats with completely unrelated putative measures; demanding that people pay a fine for something over which they not only didn’t get a hearing for but over which they actually aren’t granted so much as the right to a hearing for is bad enough.  You suggest that Dr. Swickard “run lots of red lights on cammed intersections, don’t pay the fine and then duke it out in court”, but what you fail to realize is that, in the manner these cameras are currently being utilized, he wouldn’t be allowed to take the matter to court.  That’s the objection; not the cameras’ existence, but the manner in which they are being used to enforce the law by circumventing the rule of law.  This is of course to say nothing of the fact that the city government still doesn’t have the right to shut off power to someone’s house for actions taken in their car… which begs the question; what does the city do if the alleged violator lives in an apartment?  For that matter, the following question also springs to mind:
     
    Commissioner Marks:
     
    While the PRC may lack the legal authority, does the city of Las Cruces actually have it either?  Does a municipality have the legal right to shut down utilities provided by and paid for to a private entity, particularly for a completely-unrelated infraction?

  15. This is the most offensive commentary ever written by  Mr. Swickard. It is full of malarkey and colossal untruths. He actually blames the Progressives for the housing crisis. This is absurd! This commentary should not be trusted by anyone with common sense. Sorry – it is a humbug.
    What Thomas Jefferson wanted  was an enlightened citizenry. He stated “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppression of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”
    This commentary provides no enlightenment!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. IP  Thanks for the info

    Desert Dawg  Who says they “violated the law”?  who’s they?  Their license plate, their car?  What law will you argue in court was violated by the owner of the vehicle who got the fine in the mail?  what crime is involved? Speaking of seriously…..

  17.  Wow…I didn’t realize that those progressive leaders in Las Cruces had the power to crush the home-building industry nationwide!!!!
     If you think the building industry is bad here, take a look almost anywhere in the USA, far outside the reach of Las Cruces progressive leadeship.    LC has gotten off easy, my friend. 

    Whatever decline in local home building there is can be directly placed at the door of the national leadership presiding over the worst economic crisis in our country since the Depression.   More progressives at work?  Sorry, the economy crashed (taking home building with it) under Republican leadership, and is just now starting to show signs of recovery. Local leadership in 2008 and since has little or nothing to do with it.
      The stock market hit bottom in March of ’09 with DJIA at 6,600, and it’s recently been (under 3 years of progressive leadership) as high as 13,200, a 100% gain.  Real estate will take longer, it’s much more complicated, but it’s on the mend.

     I’ve recently had two conversations with successful local real estate agents (both Republicans) and they’re bullish on the LC real estate market, as am I.     Neither complained about city leadership crushing the industry, but both mentioned the unfortunate fact that home sales to people who wish to relocate here are still being greatly pinched by the fact that people can’t sell their home elsewhere so they can make their desired local purchase, and that new home building will not recover until the supply of existing homes for sale declines significantly.  Supply and demand, not progressive tyranny.

    We probably agree on many things concerning the red light camera thing, but don’t start out a discussion on that by citing imaginary situations in real estate.  It makes it hard to take the rest of your column seriously.

    Speaking of “seriously” ….don’t you think that people who have violated the law and been cited for it should pay their penalty for doing so?  Didn’t these people run a red light?  One doesn’t have to like the law to agree that it needs to be respected because it’s the law. Scofflaws can just decide what to pay attention to or not?  Does that apply to drunk drivers too?
    Perhaps the scofflaws could spend some summer time in a nice air-conditioned jail, or pay their fine. Would that be better? 
      
    Let me suggest that you lead the anti-red light movement with some civil disobedience…run lots of red lights on cammed intersections, don’t pay the fine and then duke it out in court with the city’s greed-obsessed progressive tyrants.  Give them a lesson they’ll never forget.
     I’ll be in the back row, cheering you on.       

  18. Michael:

    Under state law, the Public Regulation Commission cannot take over the regulation of a municipal utility on its own.  The only way it can happen is a citizen petition and election, as specified in Section 62-6-5 NMSA.   Here’s a link to NM statutes online:  http://www.conwaygreene.com/nmsu/lpext.dll?f=templates&fn=main-h.htm&2.0

     

    Jason Marks 
     

     

     

     
     

  19. stever:
     
    There actually is a UNM study done on the now-defunct Albuquerque cameras that showed a noticeable (note that I don’t say “significant”) decrease in collisions caused by red-light running vehicles at camera-equipped intersections.  It was not, however, large enough not to be arguably achievable by the more legal – and probably cheaper – means of even a sporadic increased police presence at the same intersections.
     
    My problem with the Albuquerque cameras – and from Dr. Swickard’s narrative, it sounds like Las Cruces attempted many of the same questionably-legal tricks – wasn’t so much with the cameras themselves as with the enforcement mechanism; setting aside the fact that there was no way for the city to demonstrate who was driving the vehicle, making an assumption that ownership was equivalent to operation (an assumption that would have never stood up in a court of law), the entire process took place outside the bounds of the law; a private company – not the city – was responsible for collection of fines being levied for violations of a city ordnance, the fines for getting caught by a camera were far higher than getting caught by an officer because the majority of the amount billed went to operations fees levied by the company and not to the fine levied for the offense, and the procedure was handled as a private contract rather than a matter of law enforcement; this allowed them to ignore state law requiring that a percentage of traffic fines go to the state highway fund until the legislature put a kibosh on the practice.  What it also allowed, however, was a denial of due process; anyone who contested a camera-levied fine was denied their right to be heard by a judge and was instead directed to a clerk, who almost never waived the fine; to make matters more bizarre, anyone who had the temerity to contest their fine was charged fees that far exceeded the cost of the fine even if they actually managed to win.
     
    That being said, at least no one in Albuquerque ever proposed a putative measure involving someone’s house for an alleged infraction committed with their car.

  20. The City clearly had no contingency in place for this scenario.  At the point they realized that a certain number of fines were unpaid and adding up, they came out with the big press release (“thanks Sun News”), pay your speeding red light fine or the police will spot your car in the parking lot of Target and give you a real ticket.  Bluff, didn’t work, LCPD wasn’t going to do that.  Next Bluff #2, (“thanks Sun News”), we’ll come to your house and boot your vehicle, if you don’t pay up.  Really?  Who was goingb to do that?  LCPD?  Didn’t work.   

    Whether these cameras actually result in safer driving conditions (wake me up when there is any evidence) or are legitimate from a legal perspective, the City didn’t expect to have to use too many man hours to administer this much less in the collection realm.  Epic Fail  

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