Two dozen Suffolk County residents, including a Centereach man who has been charged with tampering with red light cameras as a protest, Thursday criticized the county's camera program at a Republican-held hearing in Hauppauge.
Witnesses called for the county to eliminate or scale back the program. Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone's administration called the hearing a pre-election GOP stunt, noting that most Republican lawmakers until recently supported the program.
West Babylon Fire Chief Peter McArdle said the county put up five red light cameras along a 1.2-mile stretch of East Neck Road, and that tickets were issued to volunteer firefighters responding to the fire house and even an ambulance with its lights on.
"This is about money," McArdle told lawmakers at the county Legislative Building.
Stephen Ruth, who is facing misdemeanor charges for tampering with red-light cameras in Ronkonkoma, said "the county can't be trusted to do the right thing."
But Suffolk police say that the cameras are mounted in locations with high crash rates and that Ruth jeopardized public safety. Ruth, a real estate agent, has pleaded not guilty.
Republican legislators organized Thursday's hearing, just five days before all 18 legislative seats are up for re-election.
Justin Meyers, a Bellone spokesman, said the hearing was politically motivated. "This is a nonsense political circus created by a number of candidates on the ballot on Tuesday," Meyers said.
He noted that Republicans, including Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) and Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), had voted to expand the red-light camera program last year.
"If they had questions about the program, maybe the time to ask them was when they voted to expand the program," Meyers said.
McCaffrey said his 2014 vote to increase the program from 50 intersections to 100 was a mistake. He said the decision to hold the hearing Thursday was prompted by a "building crescendo" of anger about the cameras.
A number of residents complained about judicial hearing officers at the Suffolk Traffic and Parking Violations Agency.
Robin Mills, 65 of Bay Shore, said she got sick while stopped at an intersection in August and drove through it. A hearing officer would not let her explain her case, she said.
"He was rude and didn't give me a chance," Mills said.
Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee and a supporter of the program, said she will hold a committee hearing on Nov. 12 with witnesses, including the commissioner of public works, traffic engineers and the Suffolk Traffic and Parking Violations Agency.