9/9/2011Washington: Traffic Camera Company Runs Press Relations for Lynnwood
Lynnwood, Washington employees market red light cameras for private company. Company writes responses for city.
The distinction between employees for a private photo enforcement firm and taxpayer-funded public servants blurred in the city of Lynnwood, Washington. Emails between city officials and American Traffic Solutions (ATS) suggest a cozy relationship developed where both sides were willing to perform the duties of the other in terms of marketing and public relations.
Lynnwood Police Sergeant Wayne "Kawika" Davis, for example, used official government resources and time to come up with a marketing plan to sell for the privately held firm at a conference held at the Tulalip Resort Casino in June.
"Ray, I really believe this is a great venue for ATS exposure," Davis wrote in a May 19 email to ATS project manager Ray Pedrosa. "I have some ideas that really could market ATS in WA, ID, OR and Canada. I know you are already in some of these areas; however, there is a lot more business to be had. Is there someone in marketing that you might
turn me on to?"
ATS was equally generous in inviting municipal employees from across the country to attend a complimentary seminar in Arizona discussing "tips and tricks for speaking with the media" regarding red light cameras and "when to panic, when to relax" regarding efforts in the state legislature to restrict automated ticketing. Airfare, lodging and wages during such events is considered official business and paid by taxpayers. ATS picked up the rest of the tab, for which municipal employees expressed gratitude.
"I had another wonderful time in AZ," Sergeant Davis wrote in a May 9 email to ATS spokesman Kate Coulson. "ATS is the greatest host, and put on a great conference. I really get irritated at the media, and I find it hard to keep my mouth shut, so I don't."
Davis and other Lynnwood officials were concerned as the Everett Daily Herald newspaper widened its investigation into the operations of the automated ticketing program. ATS offered to write responses for the city.
"Our public relations department has great information on the safety aspects of the cameras and they are available to you to create an opinion editorial so the Herald can cover the safety message in next month's article," Claudia Garibay with ATS wrote in an April 26 email. "Would you like for the public relations manager Kate Coulson to get in touch with you and discuss ideas and information to provide the Herald?"
Coulson ensured whenever Davis conducted interviews with reporters that he used ATS-approved talking points and materials. It did not help, as Davis did not think the Herald's May 2 online article was fair. Reporter Scott North had described city officials as "a bit prickly" when responding to questions about the photo enforcement program that had generated $4.7 million in less than a year and a half, which did not sit well with Davis.
"I will need to wait some time before I call Scott North about this," Sergeant Davis wrote in an email after reading the article. "Because if I call him now, it won't go well!"
A set of ATS emails is provided in a 1.6mb PDF file at the source link below. Pictured: ATS entertainment as provided after conference in photo taken by Davis.