5/20/2013Baltimore, Maryland Denies Speed Camera Cover Up
Motorists complain about secret meetings of speed camera task force in Baltimore, Maryland.
Earlier this month, the city of Baltimore, Maryland told the state's Open Meetings Compliance Board that it was keeping meetings of the city's speed camera task force secret, in violation of state law. Assistant City Solicitor Hilary Ruley provided screenshots from the Wayback Machine, to show that announcements were placed somewhere on the website at some point for a pair of meetings.
"This is the best evidence that the city can currently locate of the fact that all of the task force's meetings were advertised," Ruley wrote. "Again, it invited the media and the general public to attend all of its meetings and the media did attend each meeting."
The controversy developed last month when three motorists representing the Maryland Drivers Alliance complained to the state that Mayor Stephenie Rawlings-Blake set up a speed camera task force -- a government body -- that held secret meetings with the photo enforcement firm Brekford in violation of the Maryland's open meeting law. The city's response did not satisfy critics.
"Please note also that that city provided screenshots from web.archive.org for notices of just two of their meetings," Louis M. Wilen, one of the three who filed the original complaint, wrote in an emailed response to the board. "The additional three pages that Baltimore City provided are work orders, not actual evidence that meeting notices were posted. I realize that the OMA Compliance Board procedures do not provide for yet another response from the complainants, but I hope that the OMA Compliance Board will consider the above information when making their decision."
The speed camera task force was set up in September 2012 so that members of various pro-speed camera organizations, including AAA, and city employees could discuss photo ticketing policies. The most controversial meeting of the group was held on March 20 at the Brekford Corporation's headquarters in Hanover. Reporters for the Baltimore Sun attempted to enter the meeting but were turned back. The interactions were recorded on video.
The complaint also alleged the speed camera task force failed to keep minutes of the meetings or refused to make these documents public. Baltimore admits the task force is subject to state law but denies any violation.
"The task force has been in the process of compiling meeting minutes," Ruley wrote. "As the OMA manual recognizes, there is no standard reasonable time for creation of meeting minutes and certainly draft meeting minutes need not be made public."
The city included in its response to the state a set of newly generated, bare-bones minutes for the six meetings of the task force. The individuals who filed the complaint were not satisfied, citing a precedent where routine delays of "several months" in producing minutes were found to be unlawful. They were also unsatisfied with the level of detail provided by the documents.
"At best, the minutes consist of an agenda followed by a mixture of random phrases and undefined acronyms combined occasionally with marginally understandable sentences," Wilen and others wrote in response. "The minutes from two of the meetings do not provide any information beyond an agenda."
If the open meeting compliance board upholds the complaint, each individual participating in the speed camera task force could be fined $100.