Red Light, Green Light

Did the city deliberately tailor the ordinance and bid requirements to favor only one red-light camera company?

Aboussie did not attend. "She doesn't leave the office. People come to her," Specter says.

After he wrapped up his hourlong sales pitch, Specter says, Mokwa stopped Dueker and him in the hallway.

"Mokwa said, 'We'll get this done for you. If Joyce wants it done, we'll take care of it,'" Specter recalls. "He also said that the police department would put out the RFP because it would be easier that way."

Jane Dueker, chief of staff for former Governor Bob 
Holden, provides legal counsel for ATS.
Jane Dueker, chief of staff for former Governor Bob Holden, provides legal counsel for ATS.
Shown here with former U.S. Representative Richard 
Gephardt (left) and former Missouri Governor Bob 
Holden, kingmaker Joyce Aboussie now heads a powerful 
group of politicos working for ATS.
Shown here with former U.S. Representative Richard Gephardt (left) and former Missouri Governor Bob Holden, kingmaker Joyce Aboussie now heads a powerful group of politicos working for ATS.

Mokwa says he doesn't recall that conversation; neither does Dueker.

Rainford confirms ATS was the only camera vendor to meet with the mayor's staff, and the only company to request such a meeting.

"It's not unusual for a company to come to us and say, 'We have something to make your city better,'" says the mayor's chief of staff. "That's what ATS did. For the competitors to suggest that that is somehow nefarious, I'd tell them they have a screw loose. After the meeting we thanked ATS for their time and said we'd look into it. Does that mean ATS gets the job? No. We told them it would have to go out for public bid."

Still, the entire process — from drafting legislation to settling on a vendor — took a mere six months, earning St. Louis the distinction of being one of the fastest urban cities to approve and arrange for installation of red-light cameras.

In Houston, by contrast, lawmakers spent years trying to pass legislation to secure cameras. With the final hurdle cleared last winter, Texas' largest city began a months-long process of reviewing vendors, going so far as to require competing companies to install test systems at various intersections.

In Chicago, meanwhile, Alderman Thomas Allen says it took nearly six months of public hearings and political wrangling before the Windy City signed off on traffic cameras. Chicago then spent nearly a year reviewing vendors before installing the first devices in 2004.

Apprised of the stepped-up schedule in St. Louis, Allen exclaims, "Whoa! That sounds like old-time Chicago politics. What's up with that?"

Even as the company was laying the civic groundwork in St. Louis, ATS was courting a smaller, less bureaucratic market: the city of Arnold. Working with the chief of police and the city attorney, the ATS consultants successfully steered the requisite ordinance through the city council in a single day last June. The following month, ATS won the contract.

"Of course, we were in contact with [ATS] when drafting the ordinance," confirms Arnold City Attorney Bob Sweeney, who says he received draft legislation for the ordinance from Stinson Morrison Hecker attorney Jane Dueker.

Competitors say the ATS-drafted ordinance was subtly slanted to help ensure that Arnold would award the contract to ATS. The key element: a provision in the ordinance requiring that the city choose a vendor that uses a single camera to record red-light runners. Several of ATS' rivals rely on multiple cameras. Though it is a matter of debate as to which technology is better, ATS' competitors say it's extremely unusual to place specific requirements of this kind in an ordinance.

"That's an issue for the selection committee to decide," asserts Redflex's Mark Etzbach. "To have those requirements in the ordinance is extremely odd."

Sweeney counters that if the ordinance was biased in ATS' favor, none of the losing bidders ever complained about it.

"I'm ignorant and remain ignorant to this day on the technological aspects of these cameras," Sweeney admits. "Nothing is perfect, but I believe we drafted and adopted the ordinance in the right way."

Dueker, meanwhile, defends placing the single-camera provision in the ordinance she provided Sweeney, claiming evidence gathered from such systems hold up better in court. Besides, she says, it's not as though she forced Arnold to base its ordinance on the draft legislation she provided.

"Municipalities have their own lawyers who can look at the ordinance," Dueker points out. "So it's kind of irrelevant what I put in. If they don't want it, they can take it out."

Last week the city of Springfield approved an ordinance also based on ATS' draft legislation, says Springfield City Attorney Dan Wichmer. The city first learned of ATS, adds Wichmer, when Bob Holden called on its behalf last summer.

Unlike Arnold and Springfield, where city officials freely admit ATS helped draft their ordinances, public officials in St. Louis aren't saying much about how their legislation came about. In fact, they say they don't know.

City Counselor Hageman won't say who authored the ordinance, and refers questions to the mayor's office.

"Who did what over the past year that precisely led to this particular bill, I couldn't tell you," offers Slay chief of staff Rainford.

Dueker says she sent a draft ordinance to the city counselor's office last summer but can't remember whether she followed up with city officials.

Regardless, the mayor's office made the bill a legislative priority and tapped well-connected mover and shaker Lou Hamilton to tout it to elected officials. A private lobbyist on a $2,000-per-month retainer with the city, Hamilton began floating the bill among the Board of Aldermen in early October.

Why the need for a private lobbyist when the mayor's staff includes a full-time lobbyist, Jim Sondermann, at an annual salary of $82,000?

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