Rubbing paint on speed cameras


Election season is heating up.
At Friday’s monthly legislative update at the Lee County Career Advantage Center, a very well-attended event, I might add, we got a sniff of the Lee County Sheriff’s race.
Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber is now being formally challenged by former Lee County deputy Elliott Vandenberg. Vandenberg left the department to go into the private sector earlier this year, but then made a hard-right and abruptly announced his decision to challenge Weber at this month’s Lee County GOP meeting in Donnellson.
Weber, at the start of the question period at the event, told State Sen. Jeff Reichman he had spoken with another state legislator about the cameras and Reichman started a quick update on a bill that’s still in play that could ban the cameras from state highways.
Weber defended the county’s decision to install the speed cameras along the Highway 27/218 corridor. The two-term sheriff is seeking a third term leading the county’s law enforcement agency.
The speed cameras were installed last winter at three different locations and are visibly signed warning motorists of their presence. Weber said the equipment is starting to slow down traffic.
“The average speed on violations when we first started collecting data was in the 80s, now it's more like 78. And I’ve spoken with friends who own businesses out there and they said they’re seeing more taillights. So that’s a good thing.”
Weber also pointed to a key piece of data with the cameras – no one has been hurt at any of the intersections where cameras are located.
Reps. Martin Graber and Matt Rinker, along with Reichman, discussed the bill that would essentially ban the cameras, while also requiring hands-free cellphone usage. None of the three supported fully banning the cameras, but they do support some form of state regulation, including taking over revenue collection and dispersing to counties based on data.
Rinker said he did not support the use of cameras if private companies profit from the fines. He said the state should take over managing the cameras.
Lee County resident Doug Abolt said using the cameras should be put to voters, calling them traps. Vandenberg agreed, but then pivoted a bit asking how the state would regulate the cameras.
“That could change the way I think about them.”
Weber said regulation could involve, among other things, working with Iowa Dept. of Transportation to identify higher danger areas.
Abolt asked Graber to poll the 37 people in attendance if the cameras should be banned or if they should be regulated. Only Abolt and Ray Menke raised their hands to ban the cameras. About 20 others raised their hands to have the things regulated.
Granted it was just an ad hoc straw poll on a beautiful Friday afternoon, but it was telling. People don’t seem to mind the cameras if the state takes a closer look at how they are used.
Vandenberg asked if the sheriff had consulted with the state patrol on how they view the cameras.
“I would think the State Patrol would be in favor of them if they are helping save lives,” Weber responded.
Calling the cameras that are clearly marked a trap is a bit of stretch. Fines are not moving violations and are civil, not criminal, fines. Those that aren’t paid get turned over to small claims.
I’m no fan of speed cameras. I go from point A to point B and sometimes I’m trying to get to point B to catch a photo, or an event, or trying to get to two or three things at the same time. I’m getting better. More importantly, I’m getting safer. But when I set my cruise at 75 on a 65 and people buzz around me, that’s a problem.
We’ve written on the early data from the cameras and the number of people who are violating those posted limits is unbelievable – sometimes 400 a day with a predicted peak of 600 a day. We have sheriff’s department staff that is spending close to four hours a day just dealing with the tickets that have to be authorized locally.
That takes the time of sheriff administrators or deputies. The bottom line is just slow down, but here’s the rub with that. A good portion of the tickets are people passing through the county. They probably aren’t reading this.
You can’t have the conversation on speed cameras without talking about the revenue generation. That’s serious money being paid by people who, let’s face it, are violating the law. Some local - some not. The county is now depositing checks regularly at a rate of several million dollars a year. That’s theoretical based on very early data. And that’s revenue off people who are outside the grace. That’s a lot of one-time money for the county to use on worthwhile projects determined by the board, locally. Money coming from people who are again, violating the law. When we think about the potential property cap implications on the budget, that could be money to help keep deputies on the road, or pave roads to reduce the need for dust control, or help families pay for legitimate driver education or drive campaigns. If the more frugal of us don’t like raising taxes, isn’t a fine on people who like to drive really fast a decent idea?
I think the better idea is to just freakin’ slow down.  That’s what I’m doing – but that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

opinion, Beside the Point, editorial, commentary, speed camera, sheriff, department, candidates, Lee County, Iowa, fines, violations,


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