Schools won't use camera revenue due to lawsuit
By Seth Thomas Gulledge and Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector
Monday, March 19, 2018
Though the Pitt County School System has received more than $260,000 in funding from the red light camera program — with more on the way — school officials said they are not spending any money due to an ongoing lawsuit.
On Tuesday night, during a Police Community Relations Committee meeting at J.H. Rose High School, Superintendent Ethan Lenker said the funding is not being spent.
In response to a question from a community member about the status of the funding, Lanker said “right now it’s sitting in a bank and we’re not ready to spend it.”
A few minutes later, he clarified his statement.
“The idea with the red light cameras, if you've paid attention to the local media, we've been sued over that,” he said. “We're advised that we cannot spend that money until the lawsuit is settled. That's the reason we're not spending it on anything."
Red light cameras were installed throughout Greenville in early October, and after a one-month warning period, became active on Nov. 15. However since September the city has been involved in a lawsuit over their legality.
William Kozel is suing the city of Greenville, the board of education, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, President Pro Tempore of the State Senate Phil Berger and Speaker of the N.C. House Tim Moore, over the program.
Kozel said that he regularly drives a motor vehicle along the streets of Greenville and that the camera program violates federal and state laws. He believes the yellow light intervals do not give drivers who intend to obey the law, upon seeing the green light turn yellow, enough time to either stop or to proceed and enter the intersection legally.
The school system’s lawyer, Emma Hodson, said officials could not go into detail regarding the ongoing suit or funding, and referred The Daily Reflector to Lenker’s statement on Tuesday.
Since Nov. 15, 6,891 tickets have been issued to drivers in the city, according to Kristen Hunter, public information officer for the Greenville Police Department.The total number does not include tickets issued since Feb. 1, which according to Hunter still are being compiled. She said tickets issued in February are similar in volume to the 1,542 violations issued in January.
At $100 per ticket, expected revenues from those first months comes to $689,100. The school system will keep $69.15 per ticket, totaling $476,513. American Traffic Solutions, which installed and maintains the system, gets $31.85 per ticket, or $219,478. The schools pay the City of Greenville $6,250 a month for an officer to issue tickets.
In early March, the school system on received its first transfer of ticket revenue, $265,152, according to Travis Lewis, the schools’ public information officer. Hunter said payments to the system will be made monthly moving forward.
It is not clear if the school system intends to keep the funding frozen for the entire duration of the lawsuit. The suit which started in September has not yet made it to court, with several hearings being continued to later dates.
A hearing for the motions has been set for April 16. A hearing for motions is necessary before a hearing on the merits of the case and a judgement can be made.
Nancy Ray, an assistant clerk with the Pitt County Superior Court, said cases like this tend to have a long lifespan, based on the number of people involved and individual motions to be considered.
“The lifecycle of a case that is in Superior Court like that is going to be a very long lifecycle,” she said. “First because there are so many parties involved in a case, they’re always going to have scheduling issues and scheduling constraints trying to get all of the folks together at the same time.”
Representatives for the City of Greenville, Board of Education, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein, state Senate leader Phil Berger and state House Speaker Tim Moore, all listed as defendants in the case, have filed motions to dismiss it.
Kozel has filed a motion for summary judgement of the case. These are the motions that will be considered on April 16.
The Board of Education also has filed a motion for a protective order against Kozel, barring his attorneys from conducting discovery until the motions to dismiss have been considered.
The motions to dismiss were accompanied by a affidavit from the Pitt County tax collector stating Kozel has never paid taxes on real property in Pitt County or paid personal property taxes since March 17, 2016, when he registered a motorcycle.
Following this claim, Kozel filed an amended complaint, adding Craig Malmrose as another plaintiff to the case. Attached to this was an affidavit stating Malmrose is a resident of Pitt County, a North Carolina and Pitt County taxpayer.
The hearing will be held at the Pitt County Courthouse, though the time and courtroom are unannounced at this time. As of Friday, no motion for continuation of the hearing has been filed. If the motions for summary judgement and dismissal are denied, the case will proceed to a future hearing.
Contact Seth Thomas Gulledge at firstname.lastname@example.org and 329-9579. Contact Brian Wudkwych at email@example.com and 329-9567.