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Mayor Len Pagano

Mayor Len Pagano for St. Peters, Missouri

 

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Leonard B. "Len" Pagano lives in Hanover Crossing and has been a resident for over 35 years. He was honorably discharged form both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. He is a high school graduate and took specialty courses at both St. Charles County and Florissant Valley Community Colleges. He is retired from Unilever HPC where he worked as St. Louis Plant Warehouse Coordinator. He and his wife, Joyce, have three children, eight grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Mayor Pagano has served the City of St. Peters as an elected official since 1983. He was a Ward 3 Alderman from 1983-2007. In April 2007, he was elected Mayor of St. Peters to fill a vacancy. In April 2008, he was re-elected to a full, four-year term.

 

"The City of St. Peters welcomes you! The information contained in this section will help you to become familiar with each of the City’s elected and appointed officials. It will also provide you with valuable information about services, local ordinances and opportunities for citizen participation. I encourage you to become knowledgeable about your City and take an active role in your City government. Stay involved!"

 

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Message from Mayor Pagano

 

Our Red Light Camera Program Was about Safety and Fairness

 

The City of St. Peters is no longer in the red light camera business. As of July 1, 2015, our contract with the red light camera program vendor will be permanently over.  We actually have not been enforcing red light camera violations with the photo enforcement program since Sept. 1, 2014.  The camera lenses have been covered for several weeks, and after July 1, the cameras will be removed from their locations in St. Peters.

 

The red light camera program in St. Peters is over, but I’d like to take this opportunity to set some facts straight  and explain how St. Peters actually carried out the red light photo enforcement program. Chances are, you’ve heard a lot about red light cameras in the past few years. You might have strong opinions on the cameras.  Some of that information you’ve heard is just rumors without any real proof. But, facts are facts, and I want to make sure you know just how and why St. Peters operated this program.

 

I think that when critics talk about red light cameras, they try to paint a picture of a local government coldly setting up a trap. The cameras snap red light pictures at intersections, tickets are printed, and the City waits for the money from the fines to roll in. Maybe that’s how it works at other municipalities. But, I am here to tell you that this has never been the way we’ve done business in St. Peters.

 

Do you watch NFL football? There might be a touchdown that needs a booth review. The official looks at the play on review, rewinding the video and watching closely to see if the ball crossed the goal line, or if the player controlled the ball.

 

Well, in St. Peters, that’s sort of the way we did it when we enforced red light infractions with cameras—but our official reviewing the video was a trained and licensed law enforcement officer.

 

I’ll explain that process in a moment, but I’d like to go back to the beginning and explain why we even started a red light photo enforcement program in the City of St. Peters. The idea came about 10 years ago when we realized how dangerous some intersections had become. Before the new Page Avenue extension turned Highway 94 in southern St. Peters into a freeway, we had some really dangerous intersections like the one on Highway 94 at Jungermann and Kisker Roads. Cars that were running red lights there were causing some fatal accidents. The question was how do you possibly stop people’s behavior so that we can make busy intersections safer? It’s just not possible to place police officers at every one of those intersections around the clock, and people know that.

 

We heard about a couple of companies that could set up cameras at intersections for photo enforcement. One company, Redflex, said they would work with us to set up a fair system.

 

With our system, if a car illegally entered the intersection during a red light, we caught it on camera with video and still pictures of both the front and back license plates as well as the driver. But, that was just the start. We didn’t automatically issue a ticket. The video and photographs were instead treated as evidence. An officer at the St. Peters Police Department reviewed the evidence, and that police officer decided whether there was a violation. Redflex’s cameras just provided the evidence.

 

To tell you the truth, we didn’t issue a ticket every time someone rolled through a red light. We could have, but we allowed the law enforcement officer to decide whether the infraction was flagrant. So, if you rolled through while looking alert and going slowly, there’s a chance that the officer didn’t issue a ticket. You were cleared from any wrongdoing despite the photos and video taken by Redflex’s cameras.  The law enforcement officer made the call just like an NFL official in the booth review.

 

Now, what about someone texting, not paying attention, or taking a quick right turn without looking for pedestrians? Is that cause for a ticket? The law enforcement officer probably said yes, it’s a violation. But, we even went one more step. The police officer also checked state records to see if the photo of the driver matched the person registered on the vehicle’s license. And, only after matching up the driver and license registration did the officer send a violation notice to the driver. If you got a ticket, you also had a chance to review the video evidence online. A lot of times, drivers would see the evidence and have no reason but to agree that they drove through a red light.

 

Folks, I’m telling you, I don’t know of anyone else in the state of Missouri (maybe anywhere in the country) who went through all of these hoops in order to fairly operate red light photo enforcement.

 

And, while you might have read about other cities making a lot of money on red light cameras, the City of St. Peters never relied on money from red light tickets for our daily operations. We received just over $80,000 a year on average, and all of that money was set aside to help fund a transportation program for eligible St. Peters residents who didn’t have access to a car. All the money helped qualifying seniors, people with disabilities and low-income residents get to necessary medical, shopping and other essential services. (In case you’re wondering, we’ve decided to fund the transportation program this year from tax money after suspending red light photo enforcement. We’ll revisit future funding for this program during our budget process.)

 

The red light photo enforcement system was always about changing people’s driving habits to slow them down as they approached intersections in order to reduce the chances for crashes and injuries. Here’s another piece of information I can share now: We accidentally discovered evidence that the red light camera photo enforcement system was working. After the red light cameras were suspended on Sept. 1, Redflex continued to record drivers who were running red lights for about three months until we told them to shut down the cameras altogether. We told them that we weren’t issuing tickets anymore, so there was no need to use the cameras. But, we did notice from the numbers that Redflex gave us that red light violations increased by about 50% between the time we suspended the red light video enforcement program and the time we had Redflex stop using the cameras. People’s behavior changed immediately right after we stopped enforcing red light infractions. It’s the same as if you see that a police officer has set up radar on the side of a road … if you know the police officer is there, traffic slows down. And, when we knew that the cameras were recording red light infractions, we were more careful going through intersections.

 

The vote on a County Charter Amendment in November 2014 made it clear that St. Peters voters would rather not have red light cameras at our intersections. Your elected officials heard your voice, and that’s why we are ending the red light camera program even as we’re challenging the legality of that November County Charter Amendment. That lawsuit is not about red light cameras—it’s about what Missouri laws and the Missouri Constitution says about the rights of cities to do traffic enforcement in their boundaries.  That’s why the cities of O’Fallon and Lake St. Louis are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit (neither one has red light cameras), and the Missouri Municipal League, an organization with 675 member cities, towns and villages across our state, recently announced they are joining in this amendment challenge.  The Municipal League said that “we must preserve the ability of cities across the State of Missouri, to address the specific needs of their communities, free from county interference.” (Please click here to read last month’s column for more of my thoughts on that charter amendment.)

 

I want to be very clear that ending red light photo enforcement was not a decision based on anything that went wrong with our system. In fact, I think our program was a model that could be followed by other communities interested in improving public safety.
 

 

PREVIOUS COLUMN ON THE CHARTER AMENDMENT:

 

Legal Challenge to Charter Amendment NOT about Red Light Cameras

 

MARCH 26, 2015, UPDATE: The Missouri Municipal League, an organization with 675 member cities, towns and villages across our state, recently announced they are joining the City of St. Peters, the City of O’Fallon, the City of Lake Saint Louis, and the Mayor of Dardenne Prairie in this amendment challenge. The Municipal League said that “we must preserve the ability of cities across the State of Missouri, to address the specific needs of their communities, free from county interference.”

 

First things first: In case you missed it, the City of St. Peters is no longer in the red light camera business effective July 1, 2015. I was able to announce at our Feb. 26, 2015, Board of Aldermen meeting that we came to an agreement with Redflex to permanently terminate our red light photo enforcement program, effective July 1, 2015. You can learn more about this decision in our March 2015 UpFront e-newsletter. Click here to see our UpFront newsletters.


I start with that breaking news, even though the main point of this column is not really about red light cameras. Let me explain:

 

Last November, if you went to the ballot, you likely cast a vote on a St. Charles County Charter Amendment titled “Proposition Red Light Camera.”

 

I wonder if you noticed that this amendment actually was about “Automated Traffic Enforcement Systems.” Here’s the wording:


Shall the St. Charles County Charter be amended to add a Section 10.130 reading:

“10.130. Automated Traffic Enforcement Systems. Notwithstanding any other provision of this St. Charles County Charter, red light cameras or similar photograph devices or automated traffic enforcement systems may not be used in enforcing traffic regulations adopted by St. Charles County or by any municipality within St. Charles County that prohibit drivers from entering intersections when controlled by red traffic lights, and no such municipality may exercise the legislative power to use such cameras or devices or systems”?

 

Now, you probably know what a red light camera is. It’s a camera used to capture images of people running a red light. In St. Peters, we used these tools from late 2006 until September 1, 2014 so that a law enforcement officer could review pictures and video as evidence to determine whether a driver violated the law by driving through a red light.

 

But, what is an “automated traffic enforcement system?” That’s a different term, and it sounds like it could be any number of items used to enforce laws on our roads. Could an automated traffic enforcement system include traffic signals themselves? You might not like red light camera photo enforcement, but I think we can all agree that traffic signals and red lights help with traffic flow. (Have you ever crawled through a four-way stop at an intersection where the traffic signals lost power?)

 

Or, in St. Peters, we have about 100 cameras that help us coordinate the flow of traffic. They’re not designed to enforce traffic laws. But, if a driver hit a pedestrian while running a red light and then took off from the scene, police might be able to use the video from one of those cameras to identify a suspect. What if the suspect’s lawyer argues that it was illegal to enforce the law using that camera because it’s an “automated traffic enforcement system?”

 

Maybe this seems far-fetched. But, we don’t know what a lawyer might do or claim to represent their clients, and you can never be sure how courts will rule. You just never know what could happen.

 

The truth is there really isn’t a good definition of “automated traffic enforcement systems” in the Charter amendment passed last November. Here’s just one example—school bus stop arm cameras. Some school districts across the country are installing cameras on the “stop sign arms” on school buses to catch drivers passing those stopped school buses as they are loading and unloading school kids.  If a local school district decided to install these cameras on their school buses to help protect our kids from these drivers breaking the law, would this Charter amendment prohibit that?

 

This is one of many reasons why the City of St. Peters is part of a legal challenge (along with the Missouri Municipal League, the City of O’Fallon, the City of Lake Saint Louis, and the Mayor of Dardenne Prairie) to overturn the County Charter amendment on automated traffic enforcement systems.

 

Another big reason that St. Peters and other municipalities filed the challenge is that this amendment sets a terrible precedent. What if a St. Charles County Council member didn’t like how much he was fined by the City of St. Peters for speeding in a neighborhood? And, what if he convinced the rest of the council to put a Charter amendment on the ballot to reduce all municipal fines to $10.00 or $20.00 each? Do you think that might pass?

 

Think this couldn’t happen? Consider that St. Peters was the only St. Charles County municipality that used red light camera enforcement, and yet the St. Charles County Council put the issue on the ballot and cited St. Peters’ red light camera enforcement as the main reason for its decision. Why is the entire county able to vote on a St. Peters issue? This abuse of the County Council’s power is one reason why it’s not just St. Peters challenging the County Charter, but also several other municipalities.  In fact, the County’s own Charter prohibited them from interfering with local municipalities. Should the Charter Amendment first have asked permission to amend that section of the Charter?

 

There are many other legal reasons why the County shouldn’t have placed “Proposition Red Light Camera” on the ballot in the first place, and those reasons are written in lawyer-speak in a petition asking the court to overturn the county charter amendment.

 

This legal challenge to the County Charter amendment obviously has nothing to do with trying to bring back red light cameras in St. Peters. As stated above, the City of St. Peters negotiated with our red light camera company, Redflex, to permanently end the red light photo enforcement program. The contract ends on July 1.  This means none of the cities involved with this lawsuit have red light cameras. Period.

 

While we strongly believe that placing the Charter amendment on the ballot was wrong on legal grounds, the Board of Aldermen and I did not ignore the outcome of the vote. We heard the voice of the voters and we are listening to them.  That’s why we ended the red light camera program.

 

We actually have not been enforcing red light camera infractions with the photo enforcement program since Sept. 1, 2014. The Board of Aldermen passed a resolution suspending the red light camera program on August 28, 2014 because of some legal cases regarding red light cameras and the impending vote on the County Charter amendment. Although Redflex could have continued the program under the current contract, they agreed to the suspension and eventually the termination of the program.

 

Even though we are permanently ending our red light photo enforcement program, the County Charter Amendment remains a dangerous precedent that must be challenged.

 

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636-278-2244, ext. 1233
636-477-6600, ext. 1233

LPagano@stpetersmo.net
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