Members of the task appointed to oversee Baltimore's beleaguered speed camera program are distancing themselves from a recommendation that the panel "restrain media access" to its deliberations.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the regional head of AAA both said they disagreed with the proposal, unveiled on the same day that Baltimore Sun journalists were barred from the Anne Arundel County headquarters of the city’s new speed camera contractor, Brekford Corp.
The moves come as the city has limited the amount of public information about the speed camera program since the transition to Brekford Jan. 1, saying only that “several thousand” tickets have been issued from an undisclosed number of working cameras.
The city has also stopped posting speed camera data on the city’s OpenBaltimore database, saying that "citation information will be posted transparently on the city website in the coming weeks and months as the transition to new technology and a new vendor continues to ramp up."
Such information helped spur a Sun investigation that revealed widespread problems with the program, which preceded the switch to Brekford.
The recommendation to limit media appears on page 13 of the report, after a long list of other suggestions. Those include better oversight of the process, changes in how camera locations are chosen, closer scrutiny of errors and creation of a new website dedicated to all things speed cameras.
The change is intended “to enable members to have frank, productive conversations, to the extent legal and feasible.”
After the task force met for a working lunch Wednesday, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Ragina Averella expressed concern about the suggestion. She made clear it didn’t come from AAA and said she wanted it deleted before a final report goes to Rawlings-Blake in the next two weeks.
Transportation Department spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes issued a statement saying the idea came from a task force member “who is not a member of the administration and not a city employee.” She added: “We will always fully comply with Open Meetings laws as we have done throughout this process.” Officials say the recommendation will be deleted from the final report.
The Brekford site visit was an opportunity for task force members to hear a presentation from company officials and observe its citation review process — a step that occurs before tickets are forwarded to the Police Department for validation and then issuance to accused drivers.
Previously the company had extended an invitation for The Sun to visit the Hanover headquarters. But on Wednesday, a stern-faced Brekford official met two Sun journalists at the door. He refused entry and closed the mirrored door while a reporter tried to ask questions. One member of the public, a graduate student, was allowed to enter.
City officials who emerged afterward declined to comment, but Averella agreed to speak on camera. “I think it was unfortunate the media wasn’t allowed in,” she said, adding, “I think you would have been quite impressed with the measures that Brekford is taking to correct what to me was a very broken system.”She went on to defend the city, saying “the call not to allow media in was not made by the City of Baltimore or any of the task force members. That was a decision made by Brekford.”