The City Council moved ahead last night with plans to investigate Baltimore’s trouble-plagued speed camera program, calling on city agencies to appear before them, introducing legislation to give them the power to administer oaths and issue subpoenas and delivering a letter to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asking for hundreds of pages of documents.
Councilman James B. Kraft, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which will be conducting the investigation, asserted at the Council’s regular Monday meeting, that his committee’s efforts to probe on speed cameras will be unimpeachable.
“We’re clearly moving forward with an independent investigation here,” Kraft said. He noted that he will be meeting with City Solicitor George Nilson to discuss his request that the City Law Department provide counsel to the committee.
“Permanent counsel has not been assigned yet,” Kraft noted in his two-page letter to the mayor requesting documents. “”I will recommend the hiring of someone outside of his office.”
Speaking from the floor, Councilman Carl Stokes offered a sharp comment on that subject.
“There should be quite the arm’s length between this investigation and the Law Department,” Stokes said. “It, frankly, is the Law Department that is at the center of this.”
Stokes had sought unsuccessfully to have his Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee conduct the investigation. An attempt to do so again last night failed on a voice vote.
“I am disappointed, as well as many outside this room, with the gamesmanship that is pervasive on this particular bill,” he said, echoing previous critical comments on the process.
Tickets Issued to Dead Motorists
City officials had said that the speed camera program, shut down in April amid reported errors, that the system had a low error rate.
Khalil Zaied, then director of the Department of Transportation, told The Baltimore Sun the rate was “less than a quarter of 1%.” A subsequent audit obtained by the newspaper found error rates higher than 10%.
Ragina Cooper-Averella, of AAA Mid-Atlantic, described some of the reported problems with the program in a recent op-ed.
“We know that speed camera citations have been issued to deceased motorists and ‘signed’ and authorized by a deceased police officer,” Cooper-Averella write. “Motorists have been cited for speeding in school zones when they were not moving at all — including a AAA Mid-Atlantic roadside assistance truck, which was cited for going 57 miles per hour in a school zone, despite being stopped at a red light. Others have been cited in a ‘school zone’ where there was not even a school.”
Kraft’s letter seeks 31 sets of documents pertaining to the former speed camera contractors Xerox State and Local Solutions and Brekford Corp., as well as URS Corporation and Century Engineering, two consultant groups.
Expense reports, fiscal documents presented to the Finance Department, canceled checks and many other kinds of documents are specifically sought.
Kraft said he hopes, via Bill 14-0325, “Oaths and Subpoenas,” to clarify his committee’s powers, which he said should include being able to petition the Circuit Court to issue contempt of court orders against individuals who fail to comply with committee requests.