8/31/2011California: Traffic Camera Firm Shakes Down City
San Bernardino, California officials point fingers at one another as traffic camera firm demands $1.8 million.
As municipalities around the country increasingly have second thoughts about continuing red light camera programs, the private companies in charge of the photo ticketing are turning up the heat. Redflex Traffic Systems announced to its Australian shareholders last week that it continues to adjust contract language, boosting the penalties for cities that turn their back on photo ticketing. Just such language has hit in San Bernardino, California where rival photo ticketing firm American Traffic Solutions (ATS) is threatening to impose an extra $1,896,202 fee to punish the city council for attempting to get out of the contract in March. Officials had already approved cutting a check for $175,000 to the company as compensation.
City leaders were shocked to find the penalty for early withdrawal from the contract may have been underestimated by a factor of ten. Police Chief Keith L. Kilmer blamed the mistake on the sloppy work of the city attorney's office. The city's legal team blamed Kilmer for providing bad information. In a February 1 memo, Assistant City Attorney Jolena E. Grider calculated the cancellation price as $975 per intersection multiplied by the number of months remaining from the original five-year contract. Grider's memo, however, confused the term "approach" and "intersection." Each intersection has four approaches or directions of travel. That means up to four individual cameras can be installed for each intersection.
"I asked police employees several times if installed approach was the same as intersection and was told numerous times that it was," Grider wrote. "It was not until I received information from ATS a few weeks ago that I learned differently. All the information I received at the time I wrote and based the February memorandum on was from the police department and from no other source."
Chief Kilmer blasted the city attorney for going to the press and trying to pass the blame for a legal mistake to his department.
"This information about contract terminology was not provided by the police department," Kilmer wrote in an August 16 memo. "It was within the contract document itself, which I would assume that the city attorney's office had some hand in preparing and reviewing on multiple occasions."
The city attorney's office fired back at Kilmer, insisting negotiations were under way with ATS to arrive at a "mutually beneficial resolution" and that the incorrect information in the February memo could not be used in a court of law.
"There is nothing to be gained by the city of San Bernardino by this type of finger pointing in his memorandum and the inaccuracies cannot be left uncorrected," Jolena E. Grider wrote on August 17.