Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Baltimore Official Sought to "Tap" Whistle-Blower's Email

The Baltimore Sun reports that city officials asked to "tap into" emails of an employee suspected of leaking a "secret" audit of Baltimore's former speed camera contractor.

Baltimore City had conducted an audit of their now shut down speed camera program run by contractor Xerox Corp, and had refused to release the audit to the press in response to Public Information Act requests.  The Baltimore Sun was nevertheless able to obtain a copy of the audit, which revealed that one in ten citations issued by the city may have been in error and showed an error rate forty times greater than the city originally claimed.

The Baltimore Sun obtained an email written by James Harkness, the head of the division which oversees the city's speed and red light camera program:
"Were you able to tap into email records of the individual I suspect of being the 'source' in Luke's article?" Harkness asked Transportation Director William M. Johnson, referring to Sun reporter Luke Broadwater. 
Kevin Harris, a spokesperson for the mayor, gave the following explanation of this email:
"Mr. Harkness was mistaken in his use of the term tap," Harris wrote, "because that term implies that work communications belong to the employee, when in fact those communications belong to the city and are already subject to monitoring to guard against abuse of city equipment as well as ensure employees are doing their jobs while on city time." 
The city "takes seriously any improper or unlawful use or release" of information that could impact city government, Harris said, adding that he cannot comment on "specific or potential" personnel issues. "This is not to say that any employment or personnel action is or is not taking place," he wrote.
Read complete story in the Baltimore Sun.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake is apparently still determined to restart the city's program.  The mayor has requested another $160,000 in funding to pay for "traffic engineering analysis and reviews" for it's speed and red light cameras.  The city has already paid $2.2 million to speed camera contractor Brekford corp for new speed cameras which are not being used, and a $600,000 settlement cost.