Maryland Speed Camera Program: Scams, Conflicts of Interest Everywhere

When he Maryland Legislature authorized Montgomery County to use speed cameras in 2006, the people were given certain assurances. One was that there would be no per-ticket payments to speed camera contractors, which would create a financial incentive for contractors to “cheat” to maximize profits. Another was that they would only be used in “residential and school zones”, not major arterial roads. And finally, that they would not be used as cash cows for local governments by earmarking the revenues for (undefined) “public safety” improvements. All of those promises were given to the driving public – and ALL of those promises have since been broken by the Montgomery County Speed Camera Program.

The no-per-ticket-payment requirement was discussed in local government planning sessions and County Council Sessions prior to bidding on the contract, including a comment by now council president Phil Andrews on the May 8th, 2006 that “contractors are not paid based on the number of citations, that’s built-in” (transcript, pdf). Nonetheless the county signed a contract with ACS State and Local Solutions in 2007 which pays the greater of $3000 per van or $16.25 per citation per fully paid citation. That is in violation of article 21-809(j) which states “If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of Montgomery County, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid.”

Had the county been open with the public about this after citizens started to take issue, and then promptly renegotiated its contract, this might have been the end of this. But the county had a financial conflict of interest of its own: this contract was also designed to maximize profits for Montgomery County. Instead, they attempted to deceive the public while 2008 legislation authorizing statewide speed cameras was being voted on in March 2008. On March 15th 2008, County Executive Ike Leggett stated in an online town hall session in response to a question about why the county was paying its contractor a 40% cut of the speed camera revenues by stating “Under the contract, we pay a flat fee” (transcript). The 2008 legislation contained a subtle change to the law — changing the definition of a speed monitoring system operator from “an individual who operates” to “A REPRESENTATIVE OF AN AGENCY”. That would have allowed the county to designate anyone they choose as the “operator” of the system, and put into law a “loophole” which the county was trying to use as legal cover. Fortunately, the legislative session ended before the house and senate could reconcile minor differences and make it law.
On May 15th, 2008, County executive Leggett stated that the county would renegotiate its contract. But because of the county’s financial conflict, they instead continued to expand the program. That expansion included the city of Takoma Park signing an agreement to join the contract in September 22, 2008. The resolution appears to require ACS to make a profit for the city:

If the total of the City’s paid citation revenues are less than $2,999.00 per month per mobile unit for two consecutive months or for any two months in a six-month period during the term of the agreement or any renewals, the contract provides for a renegotiation of the per citation rate and/or the monthly minimum compensation payable to the contractor. If the City, in its sole discretion, is not satisfied with the results of such renegotiation or with the revenues derived from the photo speed enforcement program or the City determines that photo speed enforcement is no longer an appropriate enforcement mechanism for the City, then the City may terminate this Agreement for convenience….

Other promises given by the county and state have also proven empty. The requirement that cameras would only be used in “residential and school zones” became meaningless when major 4-6 lane commuter routes such as Connecticut Avenue were used. Other residential zones, have few or no houses nearby, such as the cameras on Montrose road that are located on a bridge at the bottom of a long hill.

Maryland speed trap

Darnestown, Maryland speed trap

The requirements that money be spent on “public safety” were proven meaningless when Chevy Chase village decided that purchasing a new Segway, a locker room, and an office for their police chief constituted “public safety improvements”. Minutes from Chevy Chase village show those items were purchased directly from the safe speed fund.

Finally, promises that they would not be used as cash cows were proven empty when in December 2008 new cameras in Darnestown were placed immediately after the location where the speed limit dropped from 40mph to 30mph. That setup is highly likely to snare any driver who does not react immediately to the changing speed limit.

The Maryland General Assembly is currently in session. Several legislators and Governor O’Malley have pledged to pass legislation which will expand speed cameras to other parts of Maryland. Given the deception Maryland drivers have faced already, it is urgent that you get involved to let them know you will not tolerate more scams, or more scameras!

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14 Responses to Maryland Speed Camera Program: Scams, Conflicts of Interest Everywhere

  1. SS says:

    Mont. County Police Clerks are NOT properly imputting cash-paid citiations into their computer system, on a timely basis.
    The Program Director, who, like many of employees involed, seems to lack ethics training and a higher education, claims “controls are in place.” Yet the controls ae simply NOT THERE!
    Where is the criminal investigation, convictions and jail time for these corrupt public servants playing games with the taxpayers money–can a state district judge who cares about justice, intervene with a warrant?
    If I was Chief of Police Manger of County Exec. Ike Leggett, this would ABSOLUTELY NOT HAPPEN UNDER MY WATCH!

  2. Adam says:

    Just as long as it was not too much $ wasted. An office for the chief is necessary (if he/she didn’t have one before), the locker rooms, not critical, but good to have, segway- saves $ on gas!

  3. StopBigBrotherMD says:

    Adam: The requirement that it be spent ONLY on public safety is a legal requirement, in addition to being something the county has repeated in many many times over to the press and public to sell their speed camera program. The reality is that the localities do not think they need to obey the law.

    The City of Rockville allocated $1million to “Parks and Recreations” out of its speed camera fund. The locker room and police items were the cost of moving and renovating existing facilities, so they already had both, so no safety benefit. Having police or other public officials riding segways is only done for PR purposes, not safety. A segway is a substitute for WALKING not DRIVING so there is really no fuel savings, and that would not be “public safety” even if it were so. CCV simply assumed nobody was going to question how they spent their “free money” and so did not choose to comply with the law in this matter.

  4. Alex says:

    Adam: I assume what you said was a poorly stated joke. If I am, however, incorrect in my assumption then I fear that the laws allowing these machines to be used are being passed by people like you. The bumbling idiots who get their money stolen out of their own pockets to buy more cameras to steal more money or purchase useless things, such as segways, and still see nothing wrong with it (in your case, welcome it) is beyond me. I hope to god that you are not able to vote, the rights given to a mentally capable citizen no longer apply to you.

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