The late George Carlin got it right when he asked this rhetorical question in one of his stand-up routines:
“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”
It’s true. And by implication, we’ve all been idiots.
And we’ve all been maniacs. Speaking for myself, of course.
Once again, the city of Santa Fe is about to launch a war on the maniacs among us. (Which some cynics out there might twist around to say that the city is biased toward idiots. I’m not saying that. As President Richard Nixon used to say, “That would be wrong.”)
Last week, I reported that the city is in the process of bringing back the controversial Santa Fe Traffic Operations Program (STOP) — which involves unmanned radar-equipped speed-monitoring SUVs that record images of passing cars and issue tickets to speeders.
That program ran for several years here but came to a stop in 2013 after the CEO of the Arizona-based company Redflex got indicted after a multistate investigation of bribery and other crimes. The CEO, Karen Finley, eventually pleaded guilty to federal bribery-related charges in Illinois and Ohio. (No charges involving the company’s New Mexico operations were ever filed.)
Finley just recently was released from prison. But her former company is still around and was one of the two bidders for the proposed contract. City officials, however, want to award the contract to another Arizona firm, Verra Mobility.
Mayor Alan Webber supports the idea of bringing back the speed SUVs. “I don’t want to see people getting tickets, but I also don’t want to see more fatalities,” he told me last week. “The real point of this is not to give out more tickets, but to inspire voluntary compliance.” Webber said he’s heard complaints all over the city from people concerned about speeding in their neighborhoods.
But the the chairman of the city Public Safety Committee, Councilor Chris Rivera — one of my two city councilors — voted against bringing back the program a couple of years ago. He still has reservations.
“The people that I represent on the south side really have a difficult time, sometimes, even just affording groceries or rent for the month,” Rivera said last week at a meeting of his committee where the proposed contract was discussed. “And to get a $100 ticket, even though you were in the wrong, is significant to people in my district.” He also said that some folks believe that, “If you’re going to get a ticket, it should be from an actual police officer.”
That’s a point I made in this very column back in 2011.
And yes, I had been busted by a speed SUV earlier that year. I’d been caught driving 11 maniacal miles above the speed limit on Don Gaspar Avenue.
Instead of just paying my $100 like a decent citizen, I asked for a hearing before the special hearing officer hired by the city for the program.
Not long before that hearing, a state police driver for then-Gov. Susana Martinez had been stopped in Albuquerque for driving 13 miles over the limit. But that driver got off with a warning, which an Albuquerque police spokesman said was not a case of “professional courtesy.”
“Every day citizens are stopped all around Albuquerque by APD officers and given verbal warnings,” the spokesman told KOAT news. “It’s all the officers’ discretion. It happens all the time.”
I brought this up at my hearing, arguing that regular citizens deserved the same breaks as a governor. And to show I wasn’t making some kind of partisan attack on the Republican governor, I brought up the fact that Democrat Bill Richardson’s drivers had also been caught going at far greater speeds when he was governor and none of them ever had to pay a ticket.
This line of defense got me nowhere. The hearing officer ruled that I’d have to pay the whole $100. As I said in that 2011 column, “I’m not whining. I was in the wrong. I just wish I’d been pulled over by the cop who stopped the governor’s driver instead of being photographed by that stupid machine.”
The proposed contract has not been heard yet by the City Council.
Hopefully they’ll slam the brakes on this recurring bad idea.