Cleveland enlists help of popular ex-mayor to defeat ballot issue to outlaw traffic cameras

Officials are enlisting the help of a popular mayor, governor and longtime U.S. senator George Voinovich to help defeat a ballot issue that would outlaw the use of speed and red-light cameras in the city.

Voters on Tuesday will decide whether they want Cleveland to keep the automated cameras that ticket motorists.

If the ballot issue is approved, Cleveland will only be able to enforce traffic camera violations if a police officer is present and writes the ticket, which would likely mean an end to a profitable program for the city.

Cameras opponents argue that the process for appealing these tickets violates the constitutional right of due process because cases are heard by someone from the city administration and not a court as the law requires.

City officials have enlisted Voinovich to appear in a television ad that emphasizes how traffic cameras help keep city streets safe.

A spokesman for Mayor Frank Jackson maintains that the cameras protect school zones and high-risk accident areas. It would take more than 60 police officers to provide the same level of enforcement as the city's 64 cameras, he said.

The loss of the cameras would cost the city millions. Cleveland collected $5.8 million last year from camera violations and $5.1 million so far this year. Fines are $100 and jump to $200 for violations in school zones and those driving 25 mph or more above the speed limit.

Traffic cameras are a contentious issue around the state as attorneys fight their use. The Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights has a similar measure on Tuesday's ballot.

But it's the Ohio Supreme Court that may have the last word on traffic cameras as it decides a case out of Toledo.

Andrew Mayle is an attorney representing Kentucky motorist Bradley Walker, who was ticketed in Toledo. Walker won his case at the local appellate level, but Toledo and its camera vendor appealed to the Supreme Court.

Mayle said having someone from the city, instead of a municipal court, adjudicate camera tickets violates the separation of powers.

"If they were right, any city could adopt any ordinance, provide any level of fine and a city employee is going to decide whether you're guilty or not," Mayle said.

Maryanne Petranek, who helped lead the campaign to ban traffic cameras in Cleveland, thinks Tuesday's vote could go either way. She said she's never had a camera ticket or a moving violation but is driven by principle.

"In this country we're innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until proven innocent," she said.