Red light camera vendor’s ex-boss entangled in bribery scheme

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The former CEO of the same traffic management company the City of Austin bought its red light camera system from in 2007 has reportedly been indicted in a Chicago bribery scheme. The Chicago Tribune reports Karen Finley, one-time head of Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., is charged with conspiracy along with Chicago’s city manager, John Bills. Bills was charged with bribery in a May criminal complaint the newspaper reports.

Each has denied the allegations in which federal prosecutors said Bills was enriched for helping secure the lucrative Chicago contract. The newspaper reports Finley’s attorney says his client plans to plead not guilty when she appears in Chicago for her arraignment at a future date.

Scottsdale, Arizona-based Redflex signed a contract with the City of Austin in 2007 in a five-year initial deal worth $4,482,987.18. The contract included two-60 month extensions. In 2012, the city renewed the Redflex contract into 2018, city records show. Finley’s name is on city purchasing documents signed in 2007 by Senior City Buyer Mick Osborne. The contract was also awarded in compliance with a city code aimed at encouraging procurement of minority and woman-owned businesses. City documents name Denton, Texas-based Dynamic Vision Company as a subcontractor to supply the traffic signal equipment.

The city’s website shows 10 cameras currently in operation at various intersection around town. Budget records for this coming fiscal year show plans for five more. KXAN learned the city’s Transportation Department is studying police department collision data this summer to pinpoint the highest volume collision intersections. At the time of the contract approval in late 2007, city staff envisioned up to 15 cameras during the first year of the project.

“The City has worked with Red Flex since 2008 to help make our streets safer,” city spokesperson Alicia Dean said. “We have had no issues with their services during that time. The City plans on remaining in its current contract with Red Flex, which runs through 2018. Allegations against former Red Flex employees do not affect the company’s contract with the City of Austin.”

More recent city records from Judicial Committee presentation in 2012 show:

  • net revenue to the city through fiscal 2011 was shy of $150,000 after Redflex and city costs were paid.
  • in 2012 the city’s Traffic Safety Fund actually lost money.
  • crash data shows the total number of annual crashes right after the cameras were activated fell by 75 percent (from 229 to 57). In recent years the number has held steady.

In Chicago, Redflex was recently replaced by Xerox State & Local Solutions Inc., based in Maryland, according to the Tribune. The newspaper reported last month that thousands of drivers have received $100 red light camera tickets they did not deserve and detailed a serious of suspicious and unexplained spikes in ticketing throughout the city.

Austin’s Red Light Citation Numbers

Red light camera citations data obtained from the City of Austin Municipal Court shows annual citation numbers peaked at more than 15,000 in the first full calendar year of the program and have diminished every year since, with a rise in 2013.

Red Light Citations
Year Citations Issued Amount Collected
2008 (9/15-12/31) 2,789 $188,532.00
2009 15,824 $1,065,956.16
2010 10,952 $719,910.33
2011 8,171 $532,113.37
2012 8,800 $569,091.00
2013 9,936 $617,666.07
2014 (Through 5/1) 3,695 $158,507.50

From September 2008 through April 2014, the city has brought in more than $3.5 million in fines paid from more than 60,000 citations issued.

The current cameras were installed in a bid to reduce the number of serious or fatal collisions, city records show. That was the intent of the Austin project spearheaded by the city’s Public Safety Taskforce, chaired at the time by council member and current mayoral candidate Mike Martinez. Current mayor, then council member, Lee Leffingwell also sat on the taskforce.

KXAN has put in a request to Austin’s City Manager Marc Ott as well as the Texas Attorney General asking if the indictment in Chicago compromises Austin’s red light camera system or even warrants an investigation in Texas.

City budget records from 2007 showed Austin paid Redflex $560,000 a year. (This fiscal year it was $487,000, city finance records show). In exchange, the city hoped to bring in more than $1.3 million in overall revenue from penalties. After paying Redflex, other revenue would pay for three municipal court staff to run the Traffic Safety Fund through the city’s Municipal Court. This fiscal year the Court manager is proposing eliminating one vacant position, leaving one full-time position for the Fund’s Civil Red Light Administration.

The State of Texas is permitted to collect half of net red light camera revenue cities collect. In 2007, that was expected to be more than $221,000 for the state’s trauma account which funds uncompensated trauma facilities and affiliated EMS operations. State law dictates remaining revenues — in 2007 expected to be that same amount, $221,000 — go into a special local account to fund traffic safety programs which include intersection improvement and traffic enforcement, according to a purchasing office briefing given to council members leading up to council’s November 2007 approval of the contract.

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