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January 15, 2014

Council votes down bus camera agreement

GREENVILLE — A plan to install security cameras on local school buses appears to be in jeopardy, after the Greenville City Council Tuesday voted against an agreement designed  to help alleviate any associated legal costs.

The council was scheduled to enter into a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with the Greenville Independent School District, which would come into play in the event drivers ticketed under a city ordinance decided to sue.

But Council member James Evans objected to the entire proposal, voicing constitutional amendment issues among other concerns.

“I don’t know if this city and these citizens need this type of enforcement,” Evans said, arguing that based on statistics provided by the district, it was conceivable that more than 131,000 tickets could be issued locally per year, resulting in $39 million in fines.

But Police Chief Daniel Busken said the cameras were designed as a child safety issue.

“The fines that are associated with this are not a concern for me,” Busken said, alluding to how the camera, if they had been installed, may have assisted in the investigation of the Alicia Moore case.

Busken also indicated the district’s bus drivers were asking for the cameras, after several children were almost struck by vehicles illegally passing the buses.

Last month, the Greenville Independent School District Board approved a measure to allow for the cameras to be installed.

The district’s administration and legal counsel met with TexServe, also known as Dallas County Schools (DCS), who would supply security cameras and other equipment to outfit 30 of the district’s school buses to provide photographic evidence of illegal school bus passings.

In May of last year, the council voted to pass a city ordinance which set a $300 fine for illegally passing a school bus, created a position of “hearing officer” that would hear any appeals in the Municipal Court, and created an appeal process whereby a defendant can appeal a ruling to the Municipal Court Judge. The City of Greenville would receive 12.5 percent of all fines collected.

City Attorney Daniel Ray said he was concerned about potential liability costs, recommending the city enter into the MOU with the school district to create an escrow account for all city and GISD monies received from the program to cover any unforeseen liability costs.

“I think it is important that we don’t get stuck paying for our own legal bills for this,” Ray said. “We know there are going to be lawsuits coming.”

Evans criticized the plan, warning that school bus drivers should not be put into the position of acting as law enforcement.

“Here we are putting buses out there with $300 ticket writing machines all over town,” Evans said. “There’s a lot of money to be made on this, a lot of money.”

The council heard Tuesday from representatives with the school district and DCS, who stressed the cameras were not designed to raise money, but to teach drivers to be more aware of the buses and to stop when required.

Council member Dan Perkins agreed.

“The goal is no revenue,” Perkins said.

Busken also explained how the same worries, of drivers illegally passing stopped school buses, were raised during a Greenville town hall meeting in 1994.

“This is not a new issue,” Busken said. “This is something citizens here have struggled with for quite some time.”

Council member Jeff Dailey agreed with Evans regarding the potential constitutional issues of using the cameras.

“From a legal standpoint, I can see where we may be putting the city in a legal bind,” Dailey said.

Eventually, the council voted 4-3 against entering into the agreement with the school district.

Ray said that left the plan to install the school bus cameras up in the air.

“This doesn’t leave things very clear,” Ray said. “We’ll need a little bit clearer direction.”

Although Evans said he was prepared Tuesday make a motion to withdraw the previous ordinance, Ray said the council will have to consider the issue at the next regular session.

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