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Motorists Sue Md Towns For Concealing Speed Camera Documents

A Maryland motorist group is suing two municipalities for failure to comply with public records requests seeking information on their speed camera systems.

Ron Ely, chairman of the Maryland Driver’s Alliance, filed complaints in circuit court against the towns of Brentwood and Morningside, both in Prince George’s County.

According to court documents, Ely filed a records request under the Maryland Public Information Act seeking information on possible errors with Brentwood’s speed camera program.  Ely requested copies of any correspondence between the town and the speed camera operator, the Maryland State Highway Administration and then-State Senator David Harrington.

The law requires queried entities to respond to requests within 30 days. Brentwood did not respond within the 30-day period.  Ely followed up with a second request and sent email inquiries about his initial request, yet received no reply.  It was not until June 2012, almost two years later that the town finally responded.  However, the response from Brentwood Town Administrator, Joseph Mangini, only stated a fee schedule for merely initiating a response to his request, including $200 per hour for the town attorney’s time.

Ely made several more attempts to obtain the records he was seeking

In a December 2012 email to Mangini, Ely wrote:

…it has now been OVER TWO YEARS since Optotraffic [Brentwood’s speed camera operator] stated they were investigating possible errors by speed cameras in the town of Brentwood (based on a Sept. 2010 article in the Washington Examiner).  And it has been over two years since I filed the first of two public information act requests with the city for records pertaining to that investigation and for documents pertaining to speed camera errors.

The Town of Brentwood responded to Ely’s complaint admitting to nearly all the allegations of failing to comply with the Maryland Public Information Act request, however, the town is claiming a laches defense arguing that Ely should have sued them sooner.

Ely also filed a complaint against the Town of Morningside when that municipality failed to respond to his request for speed camera calibration certificates.  Maryland’s speed camera law requires these records to be kept on file.  When Morningside did respond, the town’s attorney claimed that it does not maintain calibration records, as it does not operate the cameras.  Ely claims that those calibration records are public documents and the town cannot conceal them by claiming they are the property of a private contractor.

“The resistance we’ve encountered has a to do with what happened in Baltimore,” Ely said.

Baltimore City temporarily suspended its speed camera program in April in the wake of revelations that cameras in its system were incorrectly calibrated and were issuing citations to vehicles travelling 37 mph, when the threshold should have been 42mph.  One city camera issued a citation to a car that was not even moving.

Baltimore eventually switched camera operators, ditching the politically connected Xerox State and Local Solutions for the Hanover, MD based Brekford.  Brekford operates Morningside’s speed camera system.

“I was motivated by the patterns I see,” said Ely.  “The jurisdictions with major problems are the ones not turning over documents.

Mark Newgent

Mark Newgent is the editor of Watchdog Wire - Maryland, and a contributing editor to Red Maryland, the premiere blog of conservative politics in the Free State, voted one of the best state political blogs by the Washington Post two years in a row. His writing has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Washington Examiner, National Review Online, and more. Contact: Maryland@WatchdogWire.com, Twitter: @MarkNewgent

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Categories: Citizen Journalism, Government Transparency, Must Read, Open Government, Transparency
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