Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lawsuit Challenges "Ombudsman's" Qualifications

Attorney Paul Layer has filed suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court, alleging that the Local Designee (aka "Ombudsman") selected for Montgomery County's speed camera program failed to comply with a transparency requirement of state law and furthermore does not meet the requirements to hold the position.

The "Local Designee" position was created in 2014 under a bill which amended the state's speed camera law.  Among the requirements of the position was that records of complaints be kept on file and be made available to inspection.  On February 20, 2014, Mr Layer requested access to such complaints issued during the month of January 2015.  "Local Designee" David McBain responded that they had received 14 requests for citation review.  "However, on April 6, 2015, Local Designee McBain again contacted Petitioner, by telephone and e-mail, informing Petitioner that Assistant Montgomery County Attorney, David  Stevenson, instructed him NOT to provide the 14 requests previously identified by Local Designee McBain as responsive to Petitioner’s request. " wrote Layer in his petition to the court.  Layer had specifically agreed to the redaction of any identifiable information from the records.    The county responded that they would only provide the documents if Layer re-entered his request under the Public Information Act.  This would have, among other things, allowed the county an additional 30 days to delay providing the documents even though more than a month had already elapsed, and permitted them to charge fees or claim specific exemptions to disclosure under the MPIA.  The petition requests the court provide a "writ of mandamus" requiring that McBain release the documents under article 21-809(b)(1)(ix)5.

Layer further noted in his petition to the court that the state law provided that “[a] local designee may not be employed by a speed monitoring system contractor or have been involved in any review of a speed monitoring system citation, other than a review of a citation under this subparagraph.”  David McBain is the Deputy Director of the Montgomery County Traffic Division, and is second in command to Captain Tom Didone who runs the Traffic Division and thus the automated traffic enforcement division.  McBain thus has supervisory control over the automated traffic enforcement division whenever Captain Didone is unavailable.  The complain alleged that McBain thus does not meet the qualifications to serve as local designee because a supervisory role necessarily makes him involved in the review of citations: "Upon information and belief, and as provable after further discovery, Local Designee McBain has been, and continues to be, “involved in any review of a speed monitoring system citation, other than a review of a citation under [MD TRAN 21-809(b)(1)(ix)].”  Consequently, Local Designee McBain’s designation as Montgomery County’s “local designee” violates MD TRAN 21-809(b)(1)(ix)3." stated the complaint.  The petition requests the court provide a "writ of mandamus" requiring that McBain be removed from the role of local designee.

David McBain and his superior Captain Tom Didone were personally involved in the informal "workgroup" which wrote the reform bill creating the "Local Designee" position, having affirmed that Delegate James Malone called them into meetings to discuss the legislation (to which opponents of speed cameras were not invited). In testimony to the legislature Captain Didone used the term "Ombudsman" to describe the position, a term which implies a degree of independence.  The Maryland Drivers Alliance has been critical of the so called "reform" measure, with our position being that what was required was OUTSIDE oversight and/or scrutiny, and that local governments would merely assign the "ombudsman" role to an existing employee within the program who would act to defend the agency's policies rather than scrutinizing them,  Since the act went into effect, Montgomery County has disavowed the use of the term "ombudsman" in writing several times.

Edmunston Police Chief Charged with Malfeasance

Prince George's County has charged the police chief of the small town of Edmunston with two counts of malfeasance while in office after an investigation by WTOP News.

The WTOP investigation alleged that Police Chief Stephen Walker improperly voided a parking ticket issued to the town's mayor.  A group calling themselves Edmonston Residents for Change also began circulating fliers accusing the chief of corruption and improper acts while in office.  However prior to the charges the city council voted 3-2 to keep chief walker in his position.

The WTOP investigation also found that the police chief had been issued a set of untraceable confidential license plate tags (aka "ghost plates").  Such plates are normally only used for undercover investigations, but the vehicle in question was equipped with emergency lights and extra antennae which would seem to render it impractical for undercover work.  Such ghost plates would render a vehicle immune to photo and parking tickets, since the registration would be untraceable, however it's unclear whether any tickets were actually avoided in this manner.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Maryland Cuts Toll Rates

Governor Larry Hogan announced that first time in 50 years tolls will be lowered in the state.

The Maryland Transportation authority approved toll reductions on Thursday which would take effect on several roads, bridges, and tunnels across the state.

Chesapeak Bay Bridge would drop from $6 to $4 for those paying cash, or from $5.40 to $2.50 for EZPass users.  The Harry Nice Bridge toll would drop from $5.40 to $4.50.  Rush hour tolls on the ICC would be reduced from 25 cents per mile to 22 cents, and outside rush hours overnight drivers would see tolls drop from $0.17 per mile to $0.07.  Tolls for the Baltimore Harbor and Ft. McHenry tunnels would be reduced as well.

The state would also eliminate the $1.50 EZPass monthly maintenance fee.

Between 2009 and and 2014, tolls collected on existing facilities (ie not counting tolls collected on the new ICC) rose 75%, according to an analysis of MDTA financial documents by the Maryland Drivers Alliance, due to several large toll increases.

“These back-to-back massive toll hikes meant struggling Marylanders faced more to go to work every day, and they also had to pay more for family trips to the beach as they crossed the beautiful Chesapeake,” stated Governor Hogan.