Monday, March 31, 2008

Montgomery County Speed-Camera Contract Pays Per Citation, Flouts the Law

The Washington Times broke a story which show that the Montgomery County contract with ACS(Affiliated Computer Services) is in fact paying the contractor a per-citation fee. This is in apparent disregard for Transportation Article 21-809(j) of the Maryland Code, "If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of Montgomery County, the contractor's fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid."

According to the article, county officials declined a request from The Washington Times to obtain a copy of the contract with ACS (contract #7474000045-AA). However documents regarding the rider contracts for Gaithersburg and Rockville are online, make it clear that ACS is paid on a per-citation basis.

According to the article, a representative of the county has maintained that "the police department operates the cameras because officers determine whether a driver caught on camera violated the law and where the cameras should be placed."

However, ACS's own press release defines their role as such"
Under the contract, ACS processes violations; generates and mails notices; schedules adjudication and appeals appointments; provides document imaging and correspondence management; provides walk-in customer service; maintains camera equipment; and provides pay-by-web, pay-by-phone, and integrated voice response systems."

This position is in apparent violation of the intent of the law. The Washington Times article contains quotes from several state legislators which makes that clear. The no-per-ticket payment clause was part of the sales pitch for speed cameras. State Senator Brian Frosh from Montgomery County was quoted by the Times as saying "It was incorporated into the legislation to ensure a profit motive didn't drive the speed-camera enforcement" and "You're not supposed to have a bounty that was paid to the contractor."

The intent of the law to the legislators voting on the law seems clear. State delegates Dana M. Stein(D, Baltimore County) and Pam Beidle (D, Anne Arundal County) both had language on their web sites where they supported new speed camera legislation containing the same language and touted the no-per-ticket clauses, saying "Finally, the bill prohibits a speed camera contractor’s fee from being linked to the number of citations issued by the device or paid by speeders.".
Delegate Saqib Ali (D, Montgomery County) was quoted in a TV News report as saying "They should make sure that the amount paid to ACS is completely divorced from tickets issued or tickets paid."

In fact, the Montgomery County Council was also apparently clear on this point in 2006, prior to the bidding process for the contract. On page 132, lines 15-16 of these council minutes council member Phil Andrews stated "contractors are not paid based on the number of citations, that's built-in". Somehow, however, County executive Leggett was seemingly unaware of this situation right before the Times Story, stating "Under the contract, we pay a flat fee". This of course turned out not to be accurate.

A follow-up article in the Montgomery County Sentinel showed that AAA Mid Atlantic was not too pleased with this per-ticket arrangement, as they had given their support to the 2006 law under condition that there would be no such deals. (AAA sometimes lobbies on behalf of motorists, however they are also in the business of selling auto insurance.)

In 2008 the Maryland state house and senate voted on bills which would have allowed speed cameras to be used throughout Maryland. Presumably if Montgomery County were given a pass on this, so would any other jurisdictions, and perhaps also on any other inconvenient provisions of the law which are meant to protect the rights of the public.

Note that the 2008 bills also redefined the term "operator"... if this bill had been passed you would no longer have the right to face the actual operator who knows how the device was actually operated if you requested it, but merely a "representative" who knows how it is *supposed* to be operated. One version of the bills would have removed the requirement that funds from the cameras be spent on public safety improvement... a major selling point to the public of the original Montgomery County program.

Despite vigorously defending the legality of the contract, in May 2008 the county executive is quoted as saying "The contract is currently up for renewal and MCPD is investigating an alternative way of paying the vendor to eliminate even the appearance of a problem with the payment system." However, as of August 2008, the County was apparently still planning to continue this arrangement, as the City Of Gaithersburg approved a measure extending its participation in contract 7474000045-AA through all of fiscal year 2009.