If speed cameras were truly dedicated to the noble cause of saving lives, the people who run the programs would operate in an above-board fashion. They don't. That's why camera-operator deceit became the center of attention Tuesday in Maryland's highest court.
Judges for the Court of Appeals, Maryland's equivalent of a supreme court, heard oral arguments in a case that will determine whether Montgomery County and a number of municipalities are brazenly violating a provision of state law prohibiting for-profit corporations from operating cameras in such a way that they receive a financial reward for churning out more citations.
This attempt at motorist protection was added to the 2006 bill authorizing the county's cameras to assuage members of the General Assembly who wavered in their support of the camera measure, which then-Gov. Bob Ehrlich had vetoed as a blatant cash grab. Seven Republicans ultimately betrayed their governor in overriding this veto.
Despite the law, Montgomery County, Gaithersburg and Rockville are paying Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a Xerox subsidiary, $16 for each ticket the company issues. With the logic of a school boy attempting to avoid detention, these jurisdictions re-wrote their contracts in 2009 to affirm that ACS does not "operate" the speed cameras, since the law only bans "operators" from receiving per-ticket compensation. ACS and other similar firms install, own, maintain and calibrate the cameras. They take the photographs, determine who's guilty, prepare evidence for court trial, mail out tickets, collect the fines, pursue those who don't pay and run public-relations campaigns to defend the program.
The only thing of consequence that local governments do is press a button to approve the tickets sent over by the vendors. Lawyers representing the counties and cities insist this phony, rubber-stamp process ensures there is no way for the private company to make a few extra bucks by issuing more tickets because government employees retain the final say.
Judge Lynne A. Battaglia pointed out there would be no reason to provide a performance incentive to the vendor if there truly were no way for the company to improve its performance. "Why have a bounty system if everything is being done by the county?" the liberal jurist asked.
Timothy Leahy, the attorney representing ticket recipients, was similarly unimpressed by the word games used to avoid paying a flat fee to camera contractors. "It reminds me of former President Clinton saying 'it depends on what the definition of is is,' " Mr. Leahy told The Washington Times. He's optimistic the court may feel the same way in a final ruling that could come as early as August.
By the reckoning of StopBigBrotherMD.org, Old Line State speed cameras generated $77 million last year. Keeping that sizable revenue stream alive is the primary motivation of those who depend on this loot. The Court of Appeals needs to come down hard on this greedy use of deceit to rob commuters.
The Washington Times
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