Red Light, Green Light

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

In early September, Specter adds, Aboussie asked Nixon for a private meeting at her south-city office. Specter does not know what transpired at the meeting because he wasn't there, but Nixon has made no public statement about the cameras since.

Nixon declines to comment on whether he met with Aboussie.

"We're not going to confirm any meetings we had on this," says John Fougere, chief spokesman for the Attorney General's office. "His position is still the same as was quoted in the Post-Dispatch."

Along with questions about the validity of using photographs as evidence, legal debate about the cameras in other municipalities has raised privacy issues. But the "Big Brother" aspect of the matter never arose as the red-light bill wended its way through the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

Pat Connigan, the clerk for the Board of Aldermen, says that might have been because the proposed cameras won't photograph drivers, focusing instead on the rear of the car and specifically the license plate. Furthermore, violations would not result in "points" accruing to a person's driving record, essentially rendering them the equivalent of an expensive parking ticket.

Another reason privacy issues never surfaced might be an October 2005 poll showing that 80 percent of Missouri voters support the use of traffic-surveillance cameras.

Specter says ATS paid for the poll, with Aboussie calling her good friend, nationally renowned pollster John Zogby, to undertake the survey. When the results were published, the Missouri Insurance Coalition, the industry's lobbying arm, was cited as having commissioned the poll. But MIC executive director Calvin Call says his agency didn't pay for it.

As a matter of policy, Zogby does not release client information.

Asked whether she initiated the poll, Aboussie grows testy. "Now we're going to get into what I can and can't do with a respect to a contract I have with ATS," she says. "I can't get into proprietary information."

Another mystery: Who wrote the St. Louis RFP that led police commission procurement officer Carol Shepard to award the contract to ATS?

Slay chief of staff Jeff Rainford says he sent the police commission copies of bid documents from Arnold and Seattle to serve as models in drafting an official St. Louis RFP. But Carol Shepard maintains the RFP upon which she based her decision was supplied, whole cloth, by the mayor's office.

Missing from the Seattle RFP is the provision requiring the winning bidder use a single camera to capture images. That specification can only be found in the Arnold and St. Louis bid requirements.

Coincidence?

ATS president Jim Tuton says he wouldn't know. He makes no secret of the fact that his company — like its competitors — works behind the scenes to drum up municipal support for red-light cameras. Tuton dismisses as "sour grapes" his rivals' complaints that his company manipulates the process to favor ATS.

"I don't know how the cities award the winners, and it's not my business," Tuton says. "One of the reasons we deserved to win [in St. Louis and Arnold] was that we did our homework. We came in and did legal research. This is not unusual. We've done this in many other states. We create legal opinions. We have a qualified, reputable law firm do legal research, and we share that with city attorneys as a matter of course. There's nothing untoward about that."

When he got word that St. Louis' Board of Police Commissioners had thrown out its contract with ATS, Tuton sent the Riverfront Times a statement asserting that his company looks forward to winning the bid the second time around.

"We continue to offer the best technology, with the best results," Tuton writes. "We are confident that we will once again be selected over all other vendors and that ATS will be awarded the contract based on the merits of our product and the value of our offering."

Last month the police commission surrendered the bids it received for the cameras to the mayor's office.

Now in charge of the camera bids is Sam Simon, the city's director of public safety, who will draft a new RFP and assemble a selection committee. This time, Jeff Rainford says, it might take two months for the city to settle on a winner.

"We're going to rebid the whole thing," Rainford confirms. "Yes, the police commission botched the RFP."

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