TRAVERSE CITY -- Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley took the call nearly a month ago.
On the other end of the line was Patrick Meyers, a well-connected political lobbyist from Lansing who wanted to speak with Bensley about traffic cameras at intersections, a tool, he said, to help catch red-light runners.
The cameras, Meyers said, might soon be allowed in Michigan under yet-to-be-introduced legislation.
“He wanted to know where we are on this,” Bensley said.
Bensley found the call curious. It seemed to him Meyers represented a camera technology company, yet he was talking about state legislation that had yet to be introduced.
Around the same time, Bensley said, his undersheriff, Nathan Alger, was in communication with a representative from the office of state Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, who apparently was going to introduce legislation to allow traffic cameras in Michigan.
“It made me ask, ‘Who’s driving this thing, anyways?’” Bensley said. “Is there a need for this in Michigan? Where are the statistics?”
Late last week, nearly four weeks after Bensley took Meyers' call, Schmidt co-introduced legislation that would give the green light for Michigan communities to install traffic cameras at intersections. Schmidt, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he introduced the legislation to give communities another option for improving public safety.
“This has been an issue Michigan has looked at for quite some time,” said Schmidt. “We’ve seen successes in other states.
“We think it could have an impact on public safety (but) it’s not a mandate,” Schmidt said. “It’s another tool to influence driving behavior and hopefully reduce accidents.”
Schmidt acknowledged that Meyers is a lobbyist who travels in Republican circles, but said Meyers hasn’t contributed a dollar to his political campaign. A Record-Eagle inquiry confirmed Meyers represented a national traffic intersection camera company, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions.
“They are lobbying,” Schmidt said. “They lobby. They haven’t given any money to me. I don’t know if they have given to other people.”
The story of how a lobbyist would know the particulars about Schmidt’s legislation nearly four weeks prior to its introduction -- and why that lobbyist would contact a local sheriff about camera technology before the legislation's introduction -- isn't clear. Meyers, contacted by phone Friday, said he works for WWP Strategies, which in turn works for American Traffic Solutions.
Meyers asked if he was going to be quoted, then directed further questions to American Traffic Solutions.
Meyers sent emails to Bensley about the legislation as early as April 25, based on copies obtained by the Record-Eagle. Meyers wrote:
"Thanks sheriff for taking a few minutes to discuss the Rep. Schmidt legislation concerning traffic safety cameras. Attached are a couple of background documents on the issue as a well as a couple of videos that show the system in use."
Meyers attached links to youtube videos that showed American Traffic Solutions technology and cameras in place at intersections around the country.
"I will get you the actual bill language as soon as it is finalized," Meyers wrote.
This week, Meyers sent Bensley a copy of Schmidt's draft legislation.
"I just wanted to get you over the draft legislation for the red light safety cameras, which is attached," Meyers wrote to Bensley on May 20. "I believe it will be introduced as soon as tomorrow."
Meyers is described on the WWP Strategies website as "Director of the House Republican Campaign Committee."
"This gave him the opportunity to oversee a multi-million dollar statewide campaign under the leadership of now Michigan Lt. Governor Brian Calley," the website states.
American Traffic Solutions spokesman Charles Territo said Meyers handles communications and outreach for the company. Territo said the company has not made any political donations in Michigan.
"What Patrick was doing was trying to see if there was any information that we could provide about how (our) cameras work," Territo said.
"As the largest provider of red light speed and school bus stop-arm cameras nationwide, we are the industry leader and the subject matter experts on the issue," Territo said.
Shawn Dow runs the website Campaignforliberty.org and believes cameras at intersections are a violation of a motorist's constitutionally protected rights. He said American Traffic Solutions is trying to get the cameras in Michigan to make money.
"What ATS has done is spending millions of dollars across the country to lobby states who won’t allow these cameras in to let them in now," Dow said.