NAPLES — Transportation issues dominated Collier County Commission’s meeting Tuesday.
Before adjourning at noon, commissioners discussed rewriting rules for the Collier County Airport Authority so commissioners have tighter control over the group; debated ways to fairly continue the red-light camera ticket program; and, whether traffic laws could be amended to allow motorized golf carts to cross Airport-Pulling Road.
Just before Airport Director Theresa Cook resigned to take a job in Oregon, commissioners began debating who should run the county’s airports. The airport director is hired by the county’s Airport Authority, which was created in 1993, but is a commission contract employee. Some commissioners want more control over the process, meaning hiring and firing power.
Airport Authority governor David Gardner finds the proposed change incomprehensible. Except for two members, everyone on the airport authority board is a pilot. They have the knowledge to deal with officials from the Federal Aviation Administration, who are not interested in discussing issues with those who are uninformed, Gardner said.
“You’d have to make the decisions directly. Do you have the time for that? Do you have the expertise for that?” Gardner asked commissioners.
Rule changes will have to be publicly advertised before the commission absorbs the authority’s powers, but three commissioners voted in favor of the change.
“I am very interested in economic development and our airports are very much a part of that,” said Commissioner Tom Henning said. “Tax issues needed to be decided here.”
“I want less government, not more,” Fiala said.
“I don’t want to micromanage. (The Airport Authority) does a good job. I hope we can leave well enough alone,” Halas said.
Control issues were again raised over use of cameras used to catch those who run red lights. Fiala brought up the subject during commission discussion.
Frequent complaints by her East Naples constituents led Fiala to question the program, which has been in operation since April. The county contracts out to a company in Arizona, which installed and monitors the cameras.
Fiala wanted on-the-record answers: Are these cameras – and tickets issued – legal? Are people getting snagged because the cameras can’t accurately track a vehicle’s progression when it stops, then inches forward?
Collier Sheriff Lt. Harold Minch said the program is most definitely legal, and that it is perfectly fine to inch up once the vehicle has first come to a stop.
Minch contends that those caught on camera are reviewed by three people in Arizona. The fourth pair of eyes is in the Sheriff’s Office. A ticket isn’t issued unless it is reviewed by four people, Minch said.
“We’re taking great pains to protect (citizen) rights. We’re not doing anything but attempting to promote safety,” Minch said.
Referring to questions about malfunctioning cameras and lights, county Transportation Administrator Norm Feder said the Arizona vendor was told that if there are problems, as experienced recently at large intersections in Northeast Naples, his agency will shut down the cameras.
Fiala wanted to know if the program had reduced accidents, and Minch said he didn’t know. Transportation officials are not inclined to rate an intersection or program without three years of data, he said.
Feder said that about 80 percent of the tickets issued as a result of the cameras are folks making right turns on red lights.
“The Sheriff’s Office can tell you that even when the citations were handwritten, the percentages were about the same,” Feder said.
Finally, commissioners discussed a request by golfers from Grey Oaks Country Club and the Estuary at Grey Oaks, who want traffic laws changed so that they may drive their motorized golf carts across Airport-Pulling Road.
A bicycle can cross but there are different legal requirements for motorized vehicles, Feder told commissioners.
Halas expressed concern that Naples’ numerous other golf communities would want the same privilege, and questioned the cost of exploring the change.
County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow said Feder’s department would have to conduct a study, but commission clout to address this issue is limited.
Klatzkow said he’d be shocked if state officials determined that one could cross a six-lane road in a golf cart.