BLUFF CITY — All motorists cited for speeding since July 1 by the watchful eye of the camera facing the southbound lanes on U.S. Highway 11E in Bluff City will get a refund and their discretions will be erased, Interim City Manager Judy Dulaney said Tuesday.
“We’re trying first to identify all the people who received tickets and paid their fines,” Dulaney said. “If anybody had a citation within that time it will be dismissed, but we’re working right now to locate those who have already paid the fines. We’ll be going through a data system to identify everyone that was cited on the southbound lanes from that time until I had the camera shut off.”
Dulaney, who said she called the Johnson City Press Tuesday to get the word out about the refunds and dismissals, shut down the camera last week. She said the speed limit signs that were placed too close to the camera remained in place only because she presumed new legislation allowed the distance to be grandfathered in at a much later date.
“I’ll take responsibility for it,” she said. “I’m an open person. I figured it was grandfathered in, but then I learned what was going on and took care of it. There was no intention on my part to do anything wrong.”
A grandfather clause in some cases exempts those already engaged in an activity before legislation is passed to alter that activity.
State legislation that went into effect on July 1 does not permit traffic enforcement cameras to be placed on public roads and highways unless the reduced speed of 10 mph or more is posted within this parameter. In this case, the speed on the southbound lanes on U.S. 11E leading to the camera is reduced from 55 mph to 45 mph, but the 45 mph sign is posted only three-tenths of a mile from the cameras.
Acting Police Chief Greg DePew confirmed the distance last week, as did the Press.
The fact the speed limit signs had not been moved drew the ire of state legislators, including state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, who told the Press that every ticket generated from July 1 should be thrown out and that the city needed to take immediate action or he would contact the attorney general.
Bluff City’s contract with American Traffic Solutions to operate the two speed cameras expires in 2014.
“I can’t say right now what we’ll do,” Dulaney said when asked about the camera’s operation and moving the speed limit signs.
Meanwhile, she expressed her displeasure with comments given to the Press Monday by Bluff City Mayor Irene Wells.
Wells said she felt left out of the loop regarding Dulaney and other aldermen, saying she was “not included in their little network” and that her office had been taken from her.
“I was a little discouraged by the mayor acting like that,” Dulaney said. “We’ve never had an office for a mayor, and she is informed of what’s going on. She gets all the material at the same time the aldermen do.”
Dulaney also said she was going to meet with City Attorney Paul Frye regarding several issues, including making sure Wells legally is Bluff City’s mayor.
Wells, who was a sitting alderwoman, was appointed mayor at a special called meeting on June 28 by two of the city’s five aldermen. Three were there; two were not.
The charter states, “Except as otherwise provided in this charter, all questions and actions by the board shall require a vote of at least a majority of the total membership of the board.”
So is Wells the legal mayor? You bet.
Wells’ presence made the meeting an official quorum. She voted for herself — as an alderwoman. Once the voting was done, she was mayor. As mayor, she can only vote to break a tie.
Don Weaver, Bluff City’s first-ever city manager, was one of the aldermen who voted for Wells. Vice Mayor J.C. Gentry was the other.
Weaver handed in his resignation on June 30. It was not accepted, and he was fired the next day instead.
Weaver said Monday he had drawn up a resolution toward the end of his tenure to move the speed limit signs to the proper distance. He also questioned — Monday and again Tuesday — how it is that Dulaney can function as “her own boss.” Dulaney is Bluff City’s city manager, city recorder and finance director.
Article X, Sec. 1 of the city charter sanctions the move.
“As for Mr. Weaver saying he had a resolution — first of all, it would have to be an ordinance — and we couldn’t have changed anything until a TDOT study was done,” Dulaney said. “Again, all I can say is I never had any intention of doing anything wrong.”