The ACLU of Iowa was contacted late Friday afternoon by the Iowa City attorney, who informed us that our clients, Iowa City resident Aleksey Gurtovoy and Martha Hampel, will be allowed to proceed with pursuing a new ordinance to prevent red light cameras and other forms of automatic traffic surveillance technologies from being installed in Iowa City.

The means they will be allowed to proceed with an initiative for the new ordinance and to collect the needed signatures to move it forward.

The Iowa CIty attorney was responding to an ACLU of Iowa letter, delivered Friday morning, October 5, to the Iowa City Council on behalf of Gurtovoy and Hampel to get an ordinance that prohibits red light cameras.

"We believe this issue affects the rights of all Iowa City residents to have fair and equal access to the democratic processes established in the city charter," says Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa staff attorney.

In the letter, the ACLU of Iowa respectfully disagrees with the Iowa City attorney’s interpretation of the city charter. The city attorney has argued that Gurtovoy and Hampel are seeking a referendum and therefore are subject to a very specific, limiting timeline. The letter points out that what is being sought is an "initiative," which doesn’t have the same time restrictions.

The Iowa ACLU is asking the city council to accept Mr. Gurtovoy’s and Ms. Hampel’s proposed ordinance banning traffic cameras, automatic license plate readers, and unmanned aerial devices as the initiative that it is. The city attorney had argued to the city council that Mr. Gurtovoy’s and Ms. Hampel’s initiative should be barred from consideration at this time because she interprets it as a referendum despite the fact that it calls for a new Iowa City ordinance that is broader in scope than a mere repeal of an existing ordinance.

“The ACLU of Iowa is becoming involved because of the importance of this issue to the ability of all Iowa City residents to access the democratic process established by the city charter,” said Rita Bettis, ACLU of Iowa staff attorney. “We respectfully disagree with the analysis of the city attorney. We think it runs afoul of the city charter and long-standing principles of statutory interpretation.”

Bettis said it is important that Iowa City government be as open and fair as possible when citizens work to improve their local government. “We have serious concerns that the city attorney’s interpretation gives a single city official too much discretion in allowing or denying citizens the right to move forward with important civic efforts through the initiative process.”

Click here for a Cedar Rapids Gazette article with background on the situation.