Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Prince George's County Stonewalls Public Information Act Request

Officials in the Prince George's County Government have ignored a Maryland Public Information Act(MPIA) request sent by StopBigBrotherMD.org for now over 3 months.

We sent a request to the Prince George's DPWT and county executive's office for the following information on March 11, 2009:
"1) Whether Prince George’s County has received requests by any municipalities in Prince George’s County to create new school zones or to expand existing school zones on county maintained roads since April 1, 2009. If so, I wish to receive copies of those requests.
2) Whether Prince George’s County has received requests by any municipalities in Prince George’s County for permission to use speed cameras on county maintained roads since April 1, 2009. If so, I wish to receive copies of those requests.
3) If any of those requests were accepted or rejected, I wish to receive copies of the letters or documents making the acceptances or rejections.
4) Whether since April 10, 2009 Prince George’s County has stated that there would be any exactions, fees, or that there would be additional requirements beyond those stipulated in state law article 21-803 and 21-809, either for the creation of new school zones or for the municipality to receive permission to use speed cameras on any roads. If so, I wish to receive copies of the letters or documents which stated this.
"

In the request we mentioned that we believed the records were relevant to new legislation being discussed before the state legislature at that time, and that the public had a right to see them before that legislation was voted on. It was our interpretation that this legislation was intended to facilitate the creation of new school zones by Prince George's Municipalities solely for the purpose of using speed cameras, as had already been occurring in a significant number of locations. This interpretation is supported by the fiscal policy note which read "To the extent the bill results in the placement of additional speed monitoring systems in Prince George’s County, Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), special fund, and general fund revenues increase from penalties and court costs paid following a contested case under the bill, and TTF revenues increase from the collection of additional fees by the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) associated with the nonpayment of speed monitoring system citations." and "Revenues may increase significantly for Prince George’s County and any municipal corporation in the county that establishes a speed monitoring system as a result of the prepayment of fines in uncontested cases." However our emails and phone calls to some of the sponsors asking for clarification of the legislation's purpose went unanswered.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Citizens Arrested for Filming Police

ANOTHER person has been arrested for trying to record police in Maryland. Yvonne Nicole Shaw was arrested by St. Mary's sheriff's deputies responding to a noise complaint last weekend at a Lexington Park neighborhood. Sheriff's Cpl. Patrick Handy wrote in a report saw her holding her cell phone "in a manner suggesting she was recording our activity" seized the phone, reviewed the camcorder contents, and "could hear my voice and the voices of the other subjects I was talking to". "She did admit to recording our encounter on her cell phone," the corporal wrote, "for the purpose of trying to show the police are harassing people." Yvonne was arrested, charged under Maryland Wiretapping Laws, and taken to a St Mary's county jail.

"I honestly did not know that I was not able to do that," Shaw said. "He just snatched my phone from me and locked me up."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Baltimore Continues Ignoring Speed Camera Sign Requirements

We previously cited examples where Baltimore City deployed 'school zone' speed cameras without school zone signs, and in one case even configured a camera to issue tickets at the wrong speed limit for weeks. Now we've been sent another example where the city is failing to meet signage requirements for speed cameras, and where they may be enforcing a speed limit which is confusing to drivers.

The Maryland state law authorizing speed cameras states that before activating an unmanned stationary speed monitoring system, the local jurisdiction shall... "Ensure that each sign that designates a school zone indicates that speed monitoring systems are in use in school zones."

The following image is of a school zone sign for a camera at 2700 block of Orleans Street in Baltimore City. Well, here's a school zone sign, and there's a speed camera in it, so where's the photo enforcement sign? The citizen who sent this image confirmed that they found no signs indicating speed cameras in use anywhere leading up to the camera site.

We have received similar reports about the lack of signs indicating speed cameras in use elsewhere in the city.

In addition, according to a citation received by the car's owner (who was not the driver of the vehicle in this case) the camera is apparently issuing tickets based on this 25mph speed limit, and is doing so from 6am-8pm. Preceding this sign the speed limit is posted at 30mph. But look at the sign, it reads "7:00 a.m. to 4:00pm". A driver who read this sign might reasonably believe they were still in a 30mph zone and that the school zone was not in effect after 4pm when school is out of session.

Of course it is unlikely Baltimore will ever bring all of its speed camera zones into compliance with the law. Unless drivers in Maryland voice their objections in the November elections and vote against the lawmakers who approved the cameras you won't need signs to know where the cameras are: they will be everywhere.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Speed Camera Lobbyist charged with Ethics Violations

The Washington Post has reported that an ethics complaint has been filed against Sean Malone, a longtime O'Malley aide who is now an Annapolis lobbyist. Until September 2008, Malone was employed by O'Malley to lobby the General Assembly on behalf of his agenda, which included speed cameras and slots. Malone held a number of previous positions under O'Malley when he was Governor and when O'Malley was Mayor of Baltimore. The complaint, filed by former state's public defender Nancy Forester, alleges that by representing clients with interests in speed cameras and slots (specifically ACS State and Local Solutions), Malone violated a provision that bars private-sector lobbyists from engaging in matters in which they were directly involved as government employees.

Malone responds that the accusation is baseless and that enough time had passed between his public and private employment the he was free to represent private clients.

Reports filed with the Maryland State Ethics commission show that Malone was retained by ACS State and Local solutions between February 2009 and April 2008 to lobby in favor of speed camera legislation. The report lists a large number of campaign contributions made by Malone to state elected officials. ACS spent heavily on lobbying efforts prior to the passage of statewide speed cameras including buying steak dinners for state lawmakers.

ACS State and Local Solutions is the contractor for speed camera programs in Montgomery County, Baltimore City, and Bowie. ACS was recently awarded a contract to run the state freeway 'work zone' speed camera program (made possible by last year's statewide speed camera legislation), with an initial estimated value of $20.9million.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Judge Dismisses Camera Lawsuit

The Washington Examiner has reported that a Circuit Court judge dismissed the lawsuit against Montgomery County's contingent fee contract. The case had been in the courts for two years and was scheduled for a jury trial in July. The court refused previous requests by the county to dismiss the case. However this week Judge David Boyton made the decision that the county's contract, which pays ACS State and Local Solutions a 40% cut out of each ticket does not violate state law which reads "If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid."

According the ACS's own press release : "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."

It is unknown at this time whether the plaintiffs in the lawsuit will appeal the decision.

StopBigBrotherMD.org has previously documented statements by state lawmakers who include the ban on contingent fee contracts as part of their justification for supporting speed cameras. This website has also documented the fact that the county government has publicly promised to eliminate their contingent fee arrangement on several occasions to remove 'even the appearance of impropriety' but instead has renewed and expanded the arrangement. Nothing in this decision alters the hypocrisy and deception the government has engaged in, nor does it alter any of the many other abuses we have documented.

What this shows is how easily all of the advertised restrictions on speed cameras can and will be circumvented by local governments, enabled by teams of lawyers and PR campaigns paid for with our tax dollars. Those governments will view this as a green light to increase the extent to which they bend, fold, spindle and mutilate those restrictions. This website will continue to expose the corruption surrounding speed camera programs in Maryland.

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Update 8/04/2010: We have been informed that the plaintiffs have filed an appeal. Briefs will be submitted to the special court of appeals within a few months. The People have a right to see this issue put before a jury; this matter is NOT closed.