Sunday, March 13, 2016

Montgomery County's So Called “Ombudsman” Refuses To Respond To Questions

The so called “Ombudsman” for Montgomery County's speed camera has been deliberately refusing to respond to “questions and concerns” as  is his specifically prescribed duty and obligation under state law.

The editor of the Maryland Drivers Alliance website submitted questions and concerns to Montgomery County's “local designee” (aka “Ombudsman”) citing Maryland Transportation Article 21-809(b)(1)(IX)(4) which states "On receipt of a written question or concern from a person, the local designee shall provide a written answer or response to the person within a reasonable time."

However as of nine months later, answers to the questions submitted to the local designee have yet to be received.  After prompting, only an UNSIGNED one sentence response acknowledging receipt of the email was received “I have received your request and will begin working on a response.“  However despite several further attempts to contact the "so called ombudsman” about this and the local designee's explicit statement that a response was to be provided Montgomery County has yet to respond to the questions and concerns expressed in the email nine months later.

Among the questions Montgomery County's "so called ombudsman" refused to respond to were questions pertaining to "processing errors" which Montgomery County's "so called ombudsman" had failed to identify when contacted by a ticket recipient:
1.4 What is the basis for concluding that your administrative review procedures are adequate to uncover errors of all types, given that the investigation by the "Local Designee" into the particular citation referenced in the attachment  "ProcessingError.pdf" was not even sufficient to notice that the citation had already been voided, or to identify that a "processing error" had taken place?   How do you know that there are not other types of errors which your procedures are inadequate to identify?
2) In at least one of the complaints provided in your MPIA response, you respond that "there is nothing in the photograph that caused radar effects or any interference with the Speed Monitoring System".  The image on the printout is not complete, but it does appear to be DARK, thus all surroundings would not be visible.  Please describe how you are able to exclude the possibility of "radar effects" being present in a nightime image where objects in the background are not clearly visible?
3) The file "Gatsolog.jpg" is one of the daily setup logs provided in the disclosure.  All steps on the log are initialed.  There were several other logs in the disclosure similar to this one and in each of those cases you deemed them to be valid.  In the log referenced in the attached "Gatsolog.jpg" [w]hat is the "Description of Task" shown on the log for step number 7 which was signed for and which you apparently examined and found to be valid?
4) On April 6, 2015, you received a request where a Motorist stated "If it is in the government's decision to move forward in this matter, I would request copies of any evidence the prosecution may have of my involvement in the "offense", as well as all maintenance records for the camera(s) involved."    I wish to make a complaint that Montgomery County's local designee apparently improperly denied a request for records by a "person in interest", stating "Because the automated speed citation is not a criminal matter, the Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit is under no obligation to provide you with discovery of "records.

Question #3 referenced a log where an operator apparently "signed" that a completely BLANK step #7 was performed.  These erroneous logs were submitted as evidence in court by Montgomery County FOR YEARS, with "operators" signing these defective logs day after day.  The "Local Designee" claimed to have examined such erroneous logs on Multiple occasions and responded to ticket recipients that the logs looked valid to him.

Question #4 pertained to an instance where a motorist had requested copies of the evidence that would be presented against him in court.  The "So Called Ombudsman" for Montgomery County's speed camera program -- who at that time was Deputy Director of Traffic Lieutenant David McBaine -- had responded to this motorist that he was under no obligation to provide that information.

On Friday February 12, 2016, we submitted additional “questions and concerns” specifically citing Maryland Transportation Article 21-809(b)(1)(IX)(4).  The questions pertained to the Citizens Advisory Board for Transportation Issues – a secret board organized by the head of Montgomery County's speed camera program which does not conform to the Maryland Open Meetings Act and follows none of the practices which are followed by other Citizens Advisory Boards.  Additionally, we asked several questions regarding Montgomery County's previous failure to perform “daily setup tests” on weekends and failure to refund citations after this was revealed.  The “Ombudsman” refused to respond to any of those questions, and furthermore refused to acknowledge that he would investigate the matter.  Instead, after prompting specifically citing the wording of the Local Designee's duties under 21-809(b)(1)(IX)(4).  The "so called Ombudsman" again merely responded with an UNSIGNED email stating “I received your request and am currently working on it.  Local Designee is one of many responsibilities I have with the Department.”  However again, no response was forthcoming no response to any of our questions and concerns were received more than a month after our questions were submitted.

Furthermore, the Local Designee refused to respond to a request to identify himself or provide an answer as to when a response could be anticipated.  We noted that by refusing to sign his email, the recipients have no way of knowing whether the person responding was even the local designee at all, and that the county could thus disavow responsibility for any responses given.

On our last confirmed communication with the Local Designee, the individual with that role was David McBaine... Deputy Director of Traffic and second in command to Captain Didone.  Thus, his “other duties”, includes management responsibilities over the county's speed camera program.  Accord to the Local Deignee's own statements, these duties prevent him from providing timely answers to questions as required by law, or even untimely answers nine months later.

The "Ombudsman" also refused to respond to a question as to whether he has ever been advised not to answer questions from the Maryland Drivers Alliance.

We have noted previously that Montgomery County's “ombudsman” is actually nothing of the sort.  As second in command to Captain Didone, Lieutenant McBaine is in no way shape or form capable of acting as an independent or objective arbitrator.  In fact Montgomery County has disavowed the term "Ombudsman" several times in writing, making clear that they do not use this term to describe the role.  The former "Ombudsman" (Speed Camera program manager Richard Harrison") stated in writing "As I have stated above I am the Local Designee, not an ombudsman."  and on another instance "Ombusman is not a term that is used in the Speed Camera Reform Act of 2014.  We use the term local designee."  This put in no uncertain terms that there is no such thing as an "ombudsman" in Montgomery County.  

Other local governments running speed camera programs have similarly selected individuals with managerial responsibilities within speed camera programs which would prevent them from being independent arbitrators, let alone advocates for the accused.  

The Montgomery County Local Designee's failure to respond to questions or to investigate a systematic failure to perform calibration checks further proves that there is no such thing as an "Ombudsman" in Montgomery County.  Yet organizations such as the Maryland Association of Counties (MaCo) -- an organization which promotes speed cameras on behalf of local government's at taxpayer expense -- continue to claim that this role was created by recent legislation and ensures that speed camera programs are somehow now fair and that no further oversight of speed camera programs is required.  Thus MaCo continues to deliberately mislead the public about the nature of the "Local Designee", asserting that he is an impartial arbitrator and investigator of complaints when in fact he is merely a public relations spokesperson for the local government's "official position", whose real purpose is to sweep irrefutable cases of speed camera errors under the rug before the media finds out about them.

Individuals who wish to file a "question or concern" about Montgomery County's speed camera program can submit them to Local.Designee@montgomerycountymd.gov, but may get a big middle finger as a response if the answers to those questions do not fit the Montgomery County Government's narrative about speed cameras.