It's been called the red light camera capitol of Washington.
For years, Lynnwood city officials maintained the cameras were installed for safety. On August 24, Lynnwood Mayor Don Gough announced that the city retained an independent investigator to review the issues with the traffic cameras. The investigator is attorney Patty Eakes of Yarmuth Wilsdon Calfo, PLLC in Seattle.
The need for an investigation stemmed from reports that hundreds of emails between city staffers and the red-light camera company, Phoenix-based ATS, indicated a problem.
Senior police administrators admit losing income from using the cameras would leave a "big hole" in their budget and could lead to more lay-offs.
“The millions of dollars that it brings in each year have been put into the general fund and is financing the city,” Jim Smith, a Lynnwood city councilmember said.
In one email, traffic Sgt. Wayne Davis offered to help ATS, the traffic camera company, write "any negative change to the program means more layoffs and program cuts."
Councilmember Smith said he was upset that the cameras have become part of the city's income stream.
“The administration has run us to the point we are depending on the red light cameras in order to make the budget balanced,” Smith said. "That really bothers me."
Smith initially supported the cameras but soured on the program as the city continued adding more and more. He did not want to talk about the emails, but said he believes the city council will get some sort of briefing on the concerns initially raised by the Everett Herald.
The emails also portray a very cozy relationship between city staff and the Arizona-based traffic company.
In one email, Deputy Chief Karen Manser mentioned renewal of the city's contract, adding that she was looking for a job in Arizona. She asked if she might qualify for something at the red-light camera company.
Manser didn't want to talk on camera, but said she regrets writing something that gives a poor perception of the department. She also said that she never applied for a job at the traffic company, and didn't negotiate the city's contract.
Tim Eyman, a conservative political activist, has criticized Lynnwood's cameras for years.
"It's really getting sleazy when you're dealing with that much money flowing into government from a private corporation based on them being in bed with another," he said.Lynnwood’s police chief contacted an outside department to investigate the matter. In the meantime, at least one city councilmember has said he wants the city to start cutting spending and stop depending on tickets for revenue.