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Published: Tuesday, 6/4/2013

Rotten in Elmwood

Something is wrong in Elmwood Place, Ohio, a little town near Cincinnati. Although it has just 2,200 residents, it gave out 6,600 traffic tickets in a recent month. Most of the fines were for $105, and most came in the mail to people who didn’t know they’d been ticketed.

Elmwood Place has traffic cameras operated by a company that keeps 40 percent of the proceeds. A county judge ordered the town to cease, ruling the cameras were about revenue enhancement, not public safety (the town was raking in $325,000 a month).

More important, he said the ticketing and fine process lacked due process. The town refused to obey the order.

Now four of the town’s six council members have quit, ostensibly to protest the traffic cameras. That makes no sense, because if a majority opposed the cameras, presumably they could be shut down. But other reports cited the stress of the controversy and said some council members are in poor health.

The town cannot legally or practically function. It has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to remove the judge from the case, claiming he is biased and used language that was not judicial; he said the town was engaged in a “sham” and running a “high-tech game of Three-Card Monty (sic).”

Meanwhile, churchgoers are afraid to go to Sunday services in Elmwood Place. Some say they have gotten tickets each Sunday the cameras have operated.

Elmwood Place had problems with municipal revenue and with speeding. There was a tragic fatal accident this year. The town needed to slow drivers down.

But a community can force people to obey the law and respect the law itself. The judge made the key point: due process. People have a right to face an accuser, be charged, and defend themselves.

There is a lesson here for Toledo as well. Our mayor and police chief both favor traffic cameras, and the cameras have a legitimate role. But they can be abused.

There is nothing like good, old-fashioned traffic cops for keeping our streets safe. If we need more revenue to pay for more police officers, we can raise traffic fines.

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