Council seeks hundreds of pages of city speed camera documents

A City Council committee investigating a confidential audit of Baltimore's speed camera program on Monday delivered a letter to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake seeking 31 batches of documents involving nearly all aspects of the once-lucrative program.

Councilman James B. Kraft, chairman of the judiciary committee, is seeking hundreds of pages of reports, contracts and financial material related to the city's speed and red light camera program, which has been off-line since April.

His letter seeks documents pertaining to former speed camera contractors Xerox State & Local Solution and Brekford Corp., as well as consultants URS Corp. and Century Engineering. Among the 31 categories of documents sought are "all investigative reports" into the cameras' accuracy rates.

"We're clearly moving forward with an independent investigation here," Kraft told the council Monday evening.

Kraft is asking the Rawlings-Blake administration to voluntarily turn over the documents, according to a two-page letter hand-delivered to the mayor's office. He said the council could seek to subpoena records if the mayor and her law department refuse. Kraft is also seeking council authority to refer any wrongdoing that may be found to law enforcement authorities.

The mayor said she would comply with the requests as much as possible.

"I'm looking forward to working with the council as they move through their investigations to make sure we can get them as much information as we possibly can," Rawlings-Blake said.

The council has authorized an investigation into circumstances behind the audit, which was commissioned by the administration and completed last April but never released. The study, a copy of which was obtained by The Baltimore Sun and reported on last month, found error rates in city speed cameras much higher than city officials have acknowledged.

URS Corp., the national engineering firm that performed the audit, found that the camera system run by Xerox in 2012 had an error rate of greater than 10 percent, The Sun reported.

Council members have said they want to know who in the Rawlings-Blake administration knew about the audit's findings and when they knew it. Members said they would demand all documents prepared by URS on the city's speed and red-light camera program.

City lawyers have refused repeated requests to release the audit, citing "attorney work product privilege." Rawlings-Blake, responding to The Sun's reporting, said last week that URS was "not sufficiently qualified" to do a thorough report. She called the 90-page audit "incomplete."

The audit was part of $278,000 in work the firm performed for the city last year. The city recently awarded the company another $237,000 worth of work.

The investigation was first proposed by City Councilman Carl Stokes, who lamented Monday that the council did not vote for his taxation committee to lead the matter. He has said he's worried that Kraft's committee will "whitewash" any wrongdoing on the part of the administration.

But City Councilman Robert W. Curran said he believed the judiciary committee was the appropriate body to lead the probe and that the mayor would comply with it.

"I know you're going to get reams of paper," Curran told Kraft. "I know they will come forward with the information."

Kraft said he's meeting with City Solicitor George Nilson about the probe and seeking to hire an independent lawyer to represent the legislative branch.

In 2012, when The Sun was reporting on problems with the speed cameras, officials from the mayor's office and the city Transportation Department said repeatedly that the system as run by Xerox had a very low error rate. Khalil Zaied, then the head of the city's Transportation Department, said in a letter to The Baltimore Sun that the rate was "less than a quarter of one percent." Zaied was later promoted to deputy mayor.

Xerox operated Baltimore's speed camera program from the fall of 2009 through 2012, when the city put the contract out for bid again. The city selected Brekford Corp. of Hanover to take over the system starting in January of last year. The firm's brief tenure was beset by problems. The city shut down its cameras in April and severed its contract in December.

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