Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Morningside, Brekford Part Ways; Speed Cameras Taken Down

WTOP reports that speed cameras located on Suitland Road in Morningside have been removed after Morningside and speed camera contractor Brekford agreed not to renew their photo enforcement contract which was due to expire.
Freshly planted Grass at former camera site.  Photo from WTOP

The town has stated their intent to find a new vendor.  "We are interviewing other possible vendors. Brekford did a great job," says Morningside Town Attorney Todd Pounds in an email to WTOP.

The town has had to face a number of tough questions about their speed camera program.  WTOP had asked Morningside though a public information act request for documentation that they had advertised their speed camera sites prior to activation, a requirement of state law.

The town also faced criticism for having deployed the cameras despite the fact that the county actually denied their request for permission to place the cameras on a county road.  Morningside claimed that the county did not reply quickly enough to deny the request and deployed the cameras anyways.

Some motorists also disputed the accuracy of the cameras with videos, according to a prior WTOP report.

One motorist reported earlier this year that Morningside failed to even appear at a hearing where she was disputing a ticket, which was overturned as a result.

Last year the editor of the Maryland Drivers Alliance website filed a public information act request for calibration records from the town's cameras, both daily setup logs and annual calibration certificates.  State law requires such records to be "kept on file".  Town Attorney Todd Pounds responded that the town was not required to maintain such records because "Morningside is not the speed monitoring system operator".

We subsequently filed for judicial review to obtain the records.  In April of this year the judge directed that a subpoena be issued to contractor Brekford o produce the records we requested.  Brekford did comply with the subpoena and was able to produce most of the documents in the initial request.  The subpoena revealed that on a few days within the range of dates we requested no daily setup logs could be found in Brekford's records, even though they had indicated that citations had been issued.

The documents also revealed that several cameras which had been used in the town previously had been issued annual calibration certificates by the manufacturer.  State law requires that devices be certified by an "independent calibration laboratory".  Using manufacturer certifications for the first year is a practice which has taken place in other speed camera programs and which has drawn criticism the past as violating the intent of state law.  This is an issue which was specifically debated by the state legislature over the past two years and determining whether this had taken place in Morningside was part of our reason for the original request.

The Maryland Drivers Alliance editor had filed a second MPIA request with the town in March of 2014, this time for daily setup logs from a range of dates and counts of the number of citations issued by Morningside for a specific period of time in 2013.  The town attorney failed to produce those documents as well and provided the following response to the request :
1.      As you previously have been informed, the Town does not, and is not obligated to, maintain the logs pursuant to this request.
2.      Morningside does not issue citations, thus, does not maintain documents pursuant to this request.
3.      The Town of Morningside is not the systems operator as defined in that statute.

Despite this assertion, citations issued by Morningside are clearly labeled as coming from "Town of Morningside Police Department".   Daily setup logs produced by Brekford have shown that they are clearly labeled as "Town of Morningside, MD", not "Brekford Corp", and bear the town of Morningside's seal and the signature of a Town of Morningside employee.  This demonstrates that Morningside clearly had access to the system where the documents we requested are stored, and that the documents they denied having are public records created by and belonging to Morningside's speed camera program.

The attorney for Brekford Corp was more forthcoming witbh straight answers than Morningside has been.  When asked  "Have employees of The Town of Morningside been given access to a database or file system where items 2 and 4 are stored?  Specifically, is there a web site, application, or similar system through which such records can be accessed by authorized employees of Brekford's client?"  Brekford's attorney Matt Schroll replied via email "Yes.  Trained and certified representatives of the client have direct access to this and all information provided in response to your subpoena."  This would seem to indicate that Morningside was entirely capable of complying the Maryland Drivers Alliance's MPIA request at any time in the past eleven months had they chosen to be transparent.

Additional Coverage:
TheSentinel: No more speed cameras in Morningside -- for now

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Baltimore County Issues Tickets Three Years Late

WBALTV News reports that Baltimore County recently issued hundreds of tickets for violations that occurred as much as three years ago.

State law requires that citations be issued within 14 days for vehicles registered in state, or 30 days for vehicles registered outside Maryland.  The incident involved vehicles that were leased or rented.
The tickets involved citations issued to rented or leased vehicles.  Apparently the county had built up a "backlog" of such citations to "transfer" to the vehicle renter/lessee, many of which were years old, and a county employee only recently asked vendor Xerox Corp to issue the tickets.

One motorist commented to WBALV:
"I laughed. I thought it was a joke," said Stan Constatine about his reaction when he realized the speed camera ticket he was about to pay showed a violation date of April 22, 2011.
"I think what should happen is there should be an audit of all of these citations," Constatine said.
This past year State lawmakers were offered several proposals for bills to audit speed camera programs.  However the leadership of he House Environmental Matters Committee refused to incorporate audits into the law due to opposition from state and local government agencies who did not want outside oversight.

The county's speed camera vendor, Xerox, forwarded Channel 11 News' questions to a Baltimore County representative, who said about 400 tickets were never mailed out to violators until now because of a glitch in Xerox's system.

Approximately 400 of these citations were issued.  Baltimore County has stated that they would void the tickets, and issue refunds for any motorists who have paid the tickets. [....since the press is aware of it]  County officials said they were negotiating with vendor Xerox to attempt to collect $8000 in "lost revenue" from the tickets.

Xerox Corporation is the same vendor who was involved in the speed camera accuracy issues that occurred in Baltimore City, which according to an audit may have resulted in as many as 10% of all citations issued by the city being in error.  Xerox is the same vendor used by Montgomery County and the SHA.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Washington Post: Montgomery County Delegate Had DUI Arrest

The Washington Post reports that Maryland State Delegate Tom Hucker, a candidate for Montgomery County Council, had a prior 2009 arrest for DUI.

An arrest record shows that D.C. police responded to a crash on the 3600 block of 16th street NW, according to the Post.  A breath test showed a blood alcohol level of 0.09%, above the 0.08% legal limit.  Hucker was charged with driving under the influence and operating a vehicle while impaired.  No injuries from the accident were noted in the police report.  Hucker was sentenced to attend a series of weekend classes on alcohol awareness.

The incident does not appear to have been widely reported by the press previously and did not appear to be a factor in Hucker's 2010 election to the House of Delegates.  While in the state legislature, Delegate Hucker's record included supporting statewide speed cameras in 2009 and opposing the repeal of speed cameras in 2014.  Hucker is now running for the District 5 council seat which includes Silver Spring, Takoma Park, and Burtonsville.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

House Voted to Reject Speed Camera Repeal, For Workerless Workzone Cameras

While the Maryland state legislature was mulling a "reform in name only" speed camera bill which passed this year (to prevent more significant reforms amid revelations of 70,000 false accusations against motorists in Baltimore), some lawmakers attempted to address the numerous problems with Maryland's speed camera law more directly by introducing a repeal amendment to the floor of the House of Delegates.

The amendment, sponsored by Delegate Schuh, would have repealed the state's speed camera law entirely.  The bill was voted down in the house by 46-87.

The following State Delegates acted against the interests of motorists by voting to KEEP Maryland's corrupt speed cameras.
Speaker Busch Conway Holmes Mitchell Stein
Anderson Cullison Howard Mizeur Stukes
Arora Davis Hubbard Morhaim Summers
Barkley DeBoy Hucker Murphy Swain
Barnes Dumais Ivey Nathan-Pulliam Tarrant
Barve Fraser-Hidalgo Jameson Niemann Turner, F.
Beidle Frick Jones Oaks Turner, V.
Bobo Frush Kramer Pena-Melnyk Valderrama
Bohanan Gaines Lafferty Pendergrass Valentino-Smith
Branch Gilchrist Lee Proctor Vallario
Braveboy Glenn Love Reznik Vaughn
Burns Griffith Luedtke Robinson, B. Waldstreicher
Cane Gutierrez Malone Robinson, S. Walker
Carr Guzzone McHale Rosenberg Washington, A.
Carter Hammen McIntosh Rudolph Washington, M.
Clagett Haynes Miller, A. Simmons Weir
Clippinger Healey Minnick Sophocleus Zucker
Conaway Hixson

The Following State Delegates Voted To REPEAL Speed Cameras:
Afzali Eckardt Jacobs McDonough Schuh
Arentz Elliott James Miller, W. Schulz
Aumann Fisher Kach Myers Serafini
Bates George Kelly, K. Norman Smigiel
Beitzel Glass Kipke O'Donnell Stifler
Boteler Haddaway-Riccio Krebs Olszewski Stocksdale
Bromwell Hogan McComas Otto Szeliga
Cluster Hough McConkey Parrott Vitale
Costa Impallaria McDermott Ready Wood

No vote:
Cardin Kaiser McMillan Wilson
Donoghue Frank Harper Kelly, A.

See the complete vote count here

As we have argued in the past, one of the reasons the bill the so called "reform" bill the legislature ultimately passed was not meaningful was that the SHA's own program was specifically exempt from all of the changes it made, since that program is governed by a different (but similarly worded) statute.  Delegate McConkey sponsored a bill which would have changed this by addressing the most common complaint about the SHA's program: the fact that the so called "workzone" speed cameras can be deployed "regardless of whether workers are present", according to the wording of current state law, meaning that no actual work needs to be taking place.  The amendment would have required that work actually be taking place for SHA speed cameras to be used.  That amendment was rejected by a 48-86 vote.

The following Maryland State Delegates voted to KEEP workerless workzone speed cameras.
Speaker Busch Conway Holmes Minnick Simmons
Anderson Cullison Howard Mitchell Stein
Barkley Davis Hubbard Mizeur Stukes
Barnes DeBoy Impallaria Morhaim Summers
Barve Dumais James Murphy Swain
Beidle Fraser-Hidalgo Jameson Nathan-Pulliam Tarrant
Bobo Frick Jones Niemann Turner, F.
Bohanan Frush Kaiser Oaks Turner, V.
Branch Gaines Kramer Olszewski Valentino-Smith
Braveboy Gilchrist Lafferty Pena-Melnyk Vallario
Bromwell Glenn Lee Pendergrass Vaughn
Burns Griffith Love Proctor Waldstreicher
Cane Guzzone Luedtke Reznik Washington, A.
Carr Hammen Malone Robinson, B. Washington, M.
Carter Haynes McHale Robinson, S. Weir
Clagett Healey McIntosh Rosenberg Wilson
Clippinger Hixson McMillan Rudolph Zucker

The meaningless "reform" measure, which was written in large part by local governments such as Montgomery County which wished to ensure that the bill would not significantly affect them, passed both houses handily.  Those who called for actual reforms were told by lawmakers that "it's better than nothing," and the Vice Chair of the Environmental Matters Committee (Delegate Malone) openly stated in a February hearing that no other speed camera bill would be permitted to pass but his own.  Calls for "audits" of speed camera programs capable of identifying errors of the sorts which happened in Baltimore were responded to with promises that they would consider adding audits to the bill, however this did not occur.

Maryland state lawmakers serve four year terms and are up for re-election this November.

Friday, May 2, 2014

WJLA Documents Cyclists Running Red Lights

WJLA has captured footage of dozens of cyclists running red lights in DC.  The footage included incidents of pedestrians in crosswalks being forced to jump out of the way of oncoming bikes.