Monday, January 9, 2012

Something is rotten in Fort Dodge

Years ago, I worked the city council beat for a local newspaper. Some of those nights can be pretty boring. There are the reporters lounging around on the back row, pencils poised for a worthy development or sparkling quote.

Having been there, I always appreciate a lively city council story where “the people” speak up. Here’s such a report from the Fort Dodge Messenger News in Iowa. It was sent to us by OOIDA member Les Yaw of Mason City, IA.

Some people were at the council meeting to address erroneous speeding tickets generated by the mobile traffic camera system in Fort Dodge. Messenger reporter Bill Shea made a quick pounce on a story.

Those tickets, he writes, suggest that “there are some lead-footed drivers behind the wheels of school buses and other large vehicles traveling through the city.”

But something appears to be rotten in Fort Dodge and Shea quickly clarifies: “That’s simply not true, said a handful of drivers who took their case to the City Council Monday night.”

Shea reports these drivers – including a truck driver and a couple of bus drivers – claimed that they were not speeding when the traffic camera snapped photos of their vehicles. They also made the point that that “it would be impossible to get their large machines moving as quickly as the traffic camera evidence suggests.”

According to Shea’s story, the police chief said, after hearing the complaints, that the camera system was constantly checked and calibrated to the same standards used for all of the Iowa law enforcement cams.

Nevertheless, the trucker told the council he got three tickets after his truck was clocked going 50 to 55 mph in a 25 mph zone. He told them it was impossible for his big truck to hit 50 mph or more in the block and a half.

One driver for Dodger Area Rapid Transit was at the meeting, too. His bus was ticketed twice in one day. Another bus driver from the school district said he got three tickets in one day and was “going to lose his job.”

As far as paying the tickets, I’m not clear if the trucker and the bus drivers have paid the tickets, if they are pending or what. The trucker said he didn’t think he should be held accountable.

The chief and the council reacted sensibly. They’d heard of this happening in other towns although they couldn’t recall where. They decided if the traffic cam isn’t working, they will stop using it until the questions about the tickets involving large vehicles are totally checked out.   

It’s always good to hear a positive story where people take the time to go to a city council meeting and stand up for themselves in the face of some ridiculous charges. In a world of surveillance, constant tickets, citations, warnings and fines, it’s heartening.