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Red light camera vendor offers money to council members, candidates

8:16 PM, Dec 16, 2013   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida -- A swing vote on the city council could decide the fate of 22 red light cameras installed at 10 intersections in St. Petersburg.

The company that operates and profits from these cameras knows that, and we now know they offered money to the council members and candidates who could eventually decide whether the controversial cameras stay or go.

In the months leading up to St. Petersburg's tight election, there were several controversial issues that got voters motivated -- the Rays, The Lens, and the red light cameras that have popped up at nearly two dozen of the city's intersections.

It turns out American Traffic Solutions, the private company that manages and profits from those cameras, was throwing thousands of dollars at the candidate's campaigns. Not just at incumbents who'd voted for them, but challengers like Darden Rice, who'd made getting rid of them part of their platform.

"I'm against red light cameras," said Rice today. "I stated so in the beginning when I first ran for office."

But Rice, who went on to win in District 4, admits she took ATS's money -- $500 of it. The same money offered to several sitting council members and at least one other candidate.

"I accepted that contribution back in July," said Rice, "and haven't had any communication or contact with American Traffic Solution since in that time. I'm making my decision based solely upon looking at the data."

Records show ATS also tried to donate $500 to newcomer Amy Foster, but she turned it down, saying she didn't think it was right to take money from those with business before the council.

10 News first brought to light in August the controversial practice of ATS lobbying legislators. When we asked the company in the past about trying to peddle influence with contributions, spokesman Charles Territo denied it.

"Not at all. What we're trying to do is educate the Legislature and share with them the facts about not only the safety benefits, but the economic benefits that those cameras provide," said Territo.

"You don't sell your soul for $500," said outgoing St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster, who repeatedly supported red light cameras.

Mayor Foster doubts a donation of that size would have any real influence on a council member's vote.

When the red light issue eventually comes up, he predicts they'll likely stay put. But it'll be close.

"You know, red light cameras could die to a 5-to-3 vote," said Foster, "Right now, the way I'm counting it, probably 4-4, motion fails."

With a tie, Foster predicts the cameras would stay.

When asked if she would consider returning the campaign contribution made by ATS, Councilwoman-elect Rice said she still had some money left in her campaign war-chest, but would more likely donate it to a charity such as the Red Cross.

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