City Councilman Brandon Scott wants the city to release an independent, taxpayer-funded audit of speed camera tickets issued by Baltimore's former contractor, saying the need for transparency should trump the contention by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration that the findings are confidential.
"Transparency is very big to me," Scott said Tuesday. "We know we had widespread malfunctions in our speed camera program. ... We did [the audit] so we won't make these same mistakes. To rebuild the public trust, we should share that information."
Scott said he will raise the audit's status at a council hearing he'll lead Wednesday into the troubled speed and red-light camera program, which has been mothballed for months after problems with two consecutive contractors. Scott expects city transportation officials to attend the 1 p.m. hearing at City Hall
Meanwhile, Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt — members of the Board of Estimates, which approved city funds for the audit — criticized the administration for not briefing them on the audit findings. Pratt also suggested that the results be made public.
The Rawlings-Blake administration has not released the audit by California-based consultant URS Corp., which examined citations issued by Xerox State and Local Solutions, the city's camera vendor through 2012.
City lawyers have denied The Baltimore Sun's Public Information Act request for the consultant's findings.
Kevin Harris, a mayoral spokesman, said officials have released information when possible. "We understand we have an obligation to be as transparent as possible to the public," he said, "and we work to balance that to make sure we don't open up the city to potential litigation."
City Solicitor George Nilson, the administration's chief lawyer, said releasing the audit would violate the city's settlement agreement with Xerox and "create obvious risks and potential exposure for the city."
"The fact that the particular system subject to the audit has not been in operation for a year strongly mitigates in favor of maintaining the privilege and complying with the city's settlement agreement," Nilson wrote in an email to The Sun.
Xerox operated the city's camera system until Jan. 1, 2013. A Sun investigation of the city's network of 83 radar-equipped speed cameras during the Xerox era found numerous problems, including erroneous speed readings. The company later reported that an internal review found five cameras with high error rates.
In its settlement, the city agreed to pay Xerox $2.3 million for invoices dating to late 2012. The city also agreed to keep confidential any documents "referring or relating to, or reflecting, each party's internal considerations, discussions, analyses, and/or evaluations of issues raised during the settlement discussions."
In late February, the city Board of Estimates agreed to pay URS $278,000 for work that included an audit of Xerox's internal review. Nilson said the audit was "a critical part of the settlement negotiations and figured prominently in the conclusion of those discussions," adding that it was "unequivocally done in anticipation of possible litigation."
Young said the administration at least should have disclosed the outcome of the Xerox audit to the five-member Board of Estimates, which he chairs. Such information could help board members make key decisions, such as authorizing payments to vendors.
"I think they should share it," he said. "They said it was confidential. I do understand why they didn't want to share it, but I do think they should have said something to me about what transpired."
Pratt said she, too, should have been briefed on the findings, adding, "It appears that the public should know; it should be full transparency."
Although she said "you have to respect" a confidentiality provision, she is not sure the audit should be confidential based on the wording of the three-page settlement. Even if it should, she asked, "Why would you engage the firm to do the audit and then not be able to share it with the taxpayers?"
Brekford Corp. of Anne Arundel County took over the camera program from Xerox, but after less than two months the city shut down the system because of new errors. The city cut ties with Brekford in December, agreeing to pay the company $600,000, plus $2.2 million for the purchase of 72 speed cameras that the city does not expect to use for enforcement.
Last summer URS also monitored testing aimed at fixing and restarting the camera system under Brekford. Its findings — which the city released to The Sun in response to a public records request — showed persistent problems, including preventable errors.
This month, the city expanded its contract with URS. The Board of Estimates agreed to pay $237,000 for "additional independent monitoring services" of the city's speed and red-light cameras. The company will monitor "engineering services, documents and preparing of standard operating procedures and business rules," according to board records.
Rawlings-Blake has said the city plans to pursue a smaller camera program in 2014.