8/21/2013Maryland: Motorist Rights Group Sues Over Camera Data
Maryland Drivers Alliance sues Brentwood and Morningside over withheld speed camera evidence.
Municipalities in Maryland have a duty under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) to provide citizens with documents related to government activities. When it comes to speed cameras, however, some towns are maintaining a code of silence. To force them to talk, Ron Ely, head of the Maryland Drivers Alliance, filed suit in the Prince George's County circuit court last week asking a judge to force them to comply in full with the law.
It has been more than 1000 days since Ely filed a formal request for correspondence between Brentwood and the State Highway Administration concerning changes to the speed limit on Rhode Island Avenue where a speed camera is active. After receiving no response to the request made by certified mail in October 2010, another letter was sent in December 2011. The town eventually responded in June 2012, demanding that Ely pay a schedule of fees for the involvement of various town employees, including $200 an hour for the town attorney. The total cost to access the documents was left open-ended. Ely considered this response a constructive denial of his request.
"An agency which places cameras on every street corner shouldn't be allowed to break the law in order to keep secrets," Ely told TheNewspaper. "However this really isn't about speed cameras. If local governments can conceal potentially embarrassing information from the public on this issue, then what else will they be allowed to hide?"
In Morningside, Ely is not seeking obscure or difficult to obtain records. Instead, he wants the calibration certificates and daily setup logs that must be "kept on file" under the state's speed camera authorization statute. Already, two localities have been caught violating state law in allowing a private company to operate cameras without documenting the calibrations, as required.
Ely filed the request on June 5, but it failed to respond within thirty days, as required under the public records statute. After calling the town, Ely finally received an email from the town atttorney on July 25 neither granting nor denying the request.
"Please be advised that the town of Morningside is not the speed monitoring system operator as that term is defined in the Maryand Annotated Code, and therefore, the town of Morningside does not maintain the records and documents pursuant to your request," Morningside town attorney Todd K. Pounds wrote on August 5.
This is a significant admission. Brekford operates the camera program in return for a 40 percent cut of every ticket the Maryland-based company is able to issue, an arrangement specifically outlawed under Maryland statute when a private company "operates" the system.
The suit at hand is not a class action. It merely asks the court to declare items that must be "kept on file" are public records that must be disclosed and recommends town officials be fined $1000 for non-compliance.
"I thought long and hard before taking this action," Ely said. "But it's been almost 3 years since I first tried to get records from Brentwood, and both municipalities were given plenty of chances to reach a mutually agreeable solution for providing documents."