3/4/2006Camera Lobbyists Delay Houston, Texas Contract Award
Lobbyists battling over the multi-million dollar Houston, Texas red light camera contract have delayed the program for several months.
A Houston, Texas City Council panel on Friday recommended that the police department re-do its search for a red light camera vendor after discovering a number of procedural irregularities in the contract search. The companies involved have spent thousands on powerful lobbyists in a bid to land the multi-million dollar prize.
"When you start a race and in the middle of the race you change the process, that cannot be counted as being fair," said Councilman Toni Lawrence.
The initial police request for contract proposals specified that the red light camera system must photograph both the front and rear of vehicles. Systems that photograph the front of the car allow identification of the driver, ensuring that the ticket only goes to the individual responsible for the infraction. At the last minute, officials changed the requirement to rear photos only when they learned that sending tickets to vehicle owners regardless of whether they committed any crime would generate substantially more revenue. Rhode Island vendor Nestor Inc. complained that they were not given sufficient notice of this change.
"I got notification during the demo or right before the demo that it wasn't going to be front-plate capture," said Bert Keller, a Nestor lobbyist and former Houston city councilman. "We're the hometown team and we got treated like the stuff that's on the floor at the rodeo."
Keller also explained that rear plate-only systems allow big rig trucks and vehicles with trailers to run red lights without getting tickets because the cameras can't capture their rear plates. He also claimed ATS, the company police selected for the contract, outsources work to India -- a charge Jim Tuton of ATS denied. Some council members had problems with the idea of private personal information of Houston motorists being spread around the world.
"With identity theft today, with the people manipulating and handling personal criteria, I think we've got to be true to the spirit of why we are doing this," said City Councilman Pam Holm.
The ATS contract is worth $2.25 million plus a $15 bounty for every ticket the company can generate. The city wants to begin with fifty cameras issuing tickets that cost $75-150. Houston's mayor must make the final call on the contract.