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.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

2008 Statewide Speed Camera Legislation

The 2008 Maryland General adjourned Monday 4/4/2008 without passing any of the speed camera bills. But it was VERY close. The majority had arrived at a compromise bill, but opponents threatened to filibuster and the clock ran out on the General Assembly session.

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The Maryland House of Delegates had voted to approve a plan to install speed cameras statewide by a 90 to 45 vote.

Here are details on Senate Bill 269 and House Bill 364.

Both bills allow speed cameras on almost all roads of up to 45MPH. The bills both also allow their use in "highway work zones", which could include almost any road in the state. The previous law permitting their use only in Montgomery County was limited to 35mph.

Here are some of the changes that were included in one or more versions of this legislation:
  • Allow statewide use of speed cameras
  • Allow speed cameras on most 55mph freeways in Prince Georges County.
  • Allow speed cameras in temporary "highway work zones" (an amendment which would have required that there be at least one worker present was rejected).
  • Change the max speed limit where speed cameras can be used in "residential areas" to 45 mph (including existing cameras in Montgomery County"
  • (Senate Version) Eliminating the requirement that camera revenues be spent on public safety
  • (House Version) increase the maximum fine to $75.
  • Change the definition of "speed camera operator" to "a representative", meaning that the accused would no longer have the right to request that the physical camera operator appear in court.
  • Under the new law, counties are not required to report back on the success or failure of their programs until 2012.
Here are the Senators who voted for this bill:
MILLER FROSH KELLEY MUSE ROSAPEPE
BROCHIN GARAGIOLA KLAUSMEIER PETERS STONE
CONWAY GLADDEN LENETT PINSKY
CURRIE HARRINGTON MADALENO PUGH
EXUM JONES MCFADDEN RASKIN
FOREHAND KASEMEYER MIDDLETON ROBEY

Here are the Delegates who voted for the house bill:

Speaker Busch Clagett_V. Haynes Levy Rice
Ali Conaway Healey Love Rosenberg
Anderson Conway Hecht Malone Ross
Barkley DeBoy Heller Manno Rudolph
Barnes Donoghue Hixson Mathias Shewell
Barve Doory Holmes McHale Simmons
Beidle Dumais Howard McIntosh Stein
Benson Elliott Hubbard Mizeur Stukes
Bobo Feldman Hucker Montgomery Tarrant
Bohanan Frick Ivey Morhaim Taylor
Branch Frush Jones Murphy Turner_F.
Braveboy Gaines Kirk Nathan-Pulliam Turner_V.
Bronrott Gilchrist Kramer Niemann Valderrama
Burns Glenn Krysiak Pena-Melnyk Vaughn
Cane Griffith Kullen Pendergrass Waldstreicher
Carr Guzzone Lafferty Proctor Walker
Carter Hammen Lee Ramirez Weldon
Clagett_G. Harrison Levi Reznik

Governor O'Malley sponsored this legislation.

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This is not the end of the road for statewide speed cameras by a long shot. Governor O'Malley and many of the delegates have pledged to bring this before the legislature again in the 2009 session which will run from January 14th through April 13th. Governor O'Malley has the power to call a special session, so these bills could be taken up again this year. This legislature also has 2 more sessions before they are up for re-election in 2010.

Here's what you can do!

Stay Informed!
Come back to this site for updates. Please Email Me if you have any information about these cameras to share or if you wish to help prepare for the next battle.