Records: Red-light camera foe, Miami politician Francis Suarez received two tickets

07/09/2013 5:32 PM

07/09/2013 9:59 PM

Francis Suarez, the Miami commissioner and mayoral candidate leading the charge against the city’s controversial red-light cameras, has some first-hand experience with the system.

Vehicles registered to Suarez have received two tickets from red-light cameras since 2010, according to records obtained by the Herald/Times from American Traffic Solutions, known as ATS, the Arizona vendor that provides the cameras for most Florida municipalities that use them.

One of the tickets was dismissed, but one remains uncollected, a company spokesman said.

Suarez said he didn’t recall getting either one.

“In both cases, I suspect I was doing a very benign action that would not have been ticketed by a police officer,” he said. “That highlights the problems people have with these systems. ... They were supposed to be about safety, but they have really become about generating revenue.”

The first violation took place in Coral Gables on March 13, 2010, according to ATS records. There is a balance due of $125.

“As far as our records go, it was never paid,” ATS spokesman Charles Territo said.

Video provided by the company shows an Audi registered to Suarez approaching a red light at Alhambra Circle and South LeJeune Road — and turning right without first stopping.

Had the ticket been issued a few months later, the consequences would have been far more severe. Under a law that went into effect in July 2010, motorists who fail to pay their red-light tickets can have their licenses suspended or their registrations revoked. Before the legislative change, penalties for unpaid tickets were up to the local governments that doled them out.

The Coral Gables Police Department did not collect fines or penalties for a small number of tickets issued in 2010, despite repeated notices sent to some recipients, officials said.

“It was an administrative decision based on the change in law,” City Attorney Craig Leen said. “That ticket was treated no differently than any other ticket that was pending at the time the law changed.”

Video of the second violation, which took place Feb. 24, 2012 at the intersection of Coral Way and Southwest 32nd Avenue in Miami, shows Suarez’s black Ford making a late U-turn at a red light. The ticket was dismissed, Territo said.

Suarez said he did not remember the details.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who is running for reelection, has not received any tickets for red-light violations, according to ATS records.

“I stop at yellow lights,” Regalado said.

The mayor has been a supporter of Miami’s camera program, which generates more than $3 million in annual revenue for the city.

The program came under fire late last month, when Miami temporarily suspended the cameras as the result of a new state law requiring municipalities to hold their own hearings for appeals of red-light tickets. The commission will vote Thursday on whether to establish a special hearing board.

Suarez maintains that the red-light cameras have become excessive and a financial burden to Miami drivers.

“Twenty-five percent of all of the red-light-camera intersections in the state of Florida are in the city of Miami,” Suarez said. “It is clear to me that this administration has let the program get out of control.”

Regalado, however, contends that the cameras are “not a money-making machine.”

“This is about changing the driving culture and reducing the number of accidents,” Regalado said.

Herald/Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.

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