Red Light, Green Light

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

"Because Lou is one of the best," Rainford explains. "When we have very difficult issues, or even moderately difficult issues, we use Lou."

Hamilton evidently did his job well. When Third Ward Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr. introduced the bill on October 14, 21 out of 29 board members signed on as co-sponsors, and it was smooth sailing from there.

"The way it was presented to me is that the mayor was on board with this, and it was a good idea for the city," Bosley explains. "Also, the money from this would go back to the city to fund programs for abused women and things like that."

Retired police chief Ron Battelle also works as an adviser 
to ATS.
Retired police chief Ron Battelle also works as an adviser to ATS.

But contrary to Bosley's understanding, Rainford says the city is not expecting any compensation whatsoever from the cameras.

"This isn't supposed to be a high-tech speed trap," says Rainford. "We're going to do this for only the most dangerous of intersections to improve public safety."

One of the few aldermen not to sponsor the bill, board president Jim Shrewsbury says he does not know why the city chose the police department to put the camera contract out for bid.

"The obvious place to bid this would have been the treasurer's department, because this is what they do," Rainford explains. "They handle parking meters, which also go to the general revenue. But we didn't want this to be about revenue. We wanted the program to be about public safety. That's why the police department handled the bid."

Perhaps not coincidentally, it's easier to administer a public bid through the police department than through the city, where a litany of departments must sign off on such a purchase.

In early November, the police department placed a tiny ad in The City Journal, the city-government newsletter that boasts a weekly circulation of 345 copies. No other advertisements announced the request for proposals.

Major Paul Nocchiero, who serves as the final arbiter for police procurements, says the process followed department policy by advertising solely in the Journal and allowing bidders only ten days to respond.

A representative of Traffipax, a multibillion-dollar company based in Germany, says his firm's bid was sent back unopened.

"The procurement officer [Carol Shepard] told me that my bid was not in the right type of envelope," complains Mark Hammer, vice president of sales for Traffipax. "We put 75 man-hours into putting that bid together, and I didn't trust it to a flimsy envelope. I sent it in a box clearly addressed to the right person. The RFP clearly stated that you could send it by way of package, yet the police department rejected it because I didn't have the proper envelope glued onto the box. I never even received the envelope they're talking about!"

Hammer says he sent a letter of protest to Nocchiero, who tersely responded that he stood by Shepard's decision.

"We were meeting with our attorney and were prepared to file a cease-and-desist order," Hammer recounts. "But by then they'd already chosen their winner."

No one at American Traffic Solutions or the city of St. Louis will say how much revenue the cameras will generate, but it's sure to be in the millions of dollars.

Initial plans call for cameras to be installed at ten city intersections, with sites yet to be determined. But the surveillance system will almost certainly increase in scope. Chicago started with 10 cameras and now has 30. New York City has 50 cameras up and running. During a sales pitch in Gallatin, Tennessee, in November, ATS president Jim Tuton said the New York cameras produce 300,000 tickets a year, generating $15 million for the city.

ATS' St. Louis bid calls for the company to take the first $4,000 to $4,600 collected per camera, per month. According to the city, fines will run $75 to $100 per violation. Under the ATS plan, each intersection is to be equipped with a minimum of two cameras in order to monitor cars approaching from more than one direction. The minimum twenty cameras and ATS' lower figure of $4,000 amounts to nearly $1 million in revenue for ATS per year.

A chunk of that change appears earmarked for networking whiz Joyce Aboussie. Aboussie and ATS decline to comment on her consultancy arrangement. Jay Specter says his contract called for a 6 percent cut of the company's Missouri revenue, Aboussie's 3.2 percent. Specter believes that after he was dismissed, ATS directed his share to Aboussie.

But even as ATS hastened to install its first Missouri camera system last summer, not all went as planned. In an August 9 article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon voiced strong opposition to the red-light cameras aimed at Arnold.

"I think it's pretty clear these pictures can't be the sole or only evidence to cite drivers for violating state traffic laws," Nixon warned. "A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a picture in and of itself is not a conviction."

Jay Specter recalls that the article spawned a panic, and that Aboussie arranged a conference call with the ATS team hours after the story hit newsstands. After the meeting, Specter claims, Stinson Morrison Hecker attorney Jane Dueker phoned Nixon's office to stress that the cameras were indeed perfectly legal.

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