1/15/2016Maryland Officials Plant Support For Speed Cameras
Montgomery County, Maryland officials help plant letters praising speed cameras in local newspapers.
Officials in Montgomery County, Maryland have been coordinating with individuals to create the impression that "dispassionate citizens" support the use of speed cameras. A freedom of information request filed by the Maryland Drivers Alliance recently uncovered emails in which Police Captain Thomas Didone helped edit letters to the editor in the local newspaper praising photo ticketing.
On at least two occasions, Alan M. Freeman, a partner at a Washington, DC law firm, had letters appear in the Gaithersburg Gazette. Freeman has been on the county's "Citizens Advisory Board" for more than a decade, focusing on traffic issues and issues affecting the western county. In the first letter, Freeman bashed a local resident who criticized the placement of a particular camera at a highly profitable location.
"The recommendation of the county police to post a camera on Gold Mine Road was endorsed by a citizen advisory panel that considered only objective public safety data," Freeman asserted in the February 23, 2011 letter. "Like so many others, Ms. Link's real objection seems to be that she doesn't like to obey the speed limit, and she likes it even less when she gets caught."
In a March 12, 2014 letter praising speed cameras, Freeman does disclose that he has been on the county speed camera board "since its inception." He gets personal once again to bash a resident who wrote to point out, contrary to Captain Didone's claim, that the cameras have not reduced speeding. Instead, the letter cited rising citation numbers as evidence that the only thing rising was county revenue. Freeman labeled the letter as an "unoriginal and uninformed critique" and "pure poppycock." Captain Didone helped write that letter.
"Attached is my initial draft letter to the Gazette," Freeman wrote in a February 27, 2014 email -- written the day after the anti-camera letter appeared.
Freeman made clear in his note to Captain Didone that his intention was to create the impression that "dispassionate" citizens favor speed cameras.
"I welcome your input and suggestions," Freeman added. "BTW, I thought about going after the ad hominem attack on Tom, but feared that would be seen as over-personalizing this, and I want it to be seen as a dispassionate citizen response. Happy to chat by phone if you like."
The Maryland Drivers Alliance asked for the emails as part of a larger effort to obtain records from the Citizens Advisory Board for Traffic Issues (CAB-TI) meetings, which have taken place strictly behind closed doors, excluding citizens from participating. Captain Didone refuses to release the board's agendas and the names of members, insisting the state's Open Meetings Act does not apply to the county-controlled group.
"Since the CAB-TI's agendas were not limited to just selecting speed camera locations, and because no minutes or agendas were kept, there is no way for the public or the press to have any idea what other matters might have been discussed or what other matters might be discussed in future meetings," the drivers' rights group explained.
The Gaithersburg Gazette ceased publication last June.