Gwinnett County school system to proceed with controversial contract

An Australian company is getting the go-ahead to install cameras on some Gwinnett County school buses, despite being the subject of a bribery investigation and a competitor’s protest, school officials said Thursday night.

Redflex Traffic Systems was awarded a contract July 18 to install cameras on some Gwinnett school buses, with the goal of catching motorists who illegally pass a school bus while its stop-arm is out.

Some cameras originally were to be installed by Sept. 9. But the work was put on hold in early August after a competitor, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions, protested the contract award on grounds that Redflex, which is the subject of a federal bribery investigation, is not trustworthy.

Thursday night, J. Alvin Wilbanks, superintendent and CEO of Gwinnett County Schools, said staff had thoroughly investigated Redflex and had determined the contract will go forward. “We do not believe there is anything that would disqualify the bidder,” he told the school board.

The Chicago Tribune has reported that Redflex is under federal investigation for allegedly maintaining a Chicago red-light camera contract through a decade-long, $2 million bribery scheme. The scandal in Chicago has been well-publicized.

But Gwinnett school board members were not told about the scandal before they voted to contract with Redflex for the camera installation. Wilbanks himself said he did not know of the controversy.

American Traffic Solutions, which lost out on the contract to Redflex, filed a protest with the school system in late July. The company renewed its challenge again Thursday in a letter to the district that, among other things, said Redflex had lost several contracts in the fallout from the Chicago controversy and had been forced to lay off one out of six of its employees.

“We appreciate the board’s consideration of our request and look forward to the next phase in this process,” said Charles Territo in an email statement late Thursday.

Redflex’s proposal calls for the company to install and maintain the cameras at no cost to the district. It predicts the cameras will catch between one and two violations per day for every school bus equipped with a camera.

Its proposal states that the company may earn more than $200,000 a month based on tickets issued to stop-arm violators. It also promises that the district will receive about $170,000 a month after all cameras are installed and that the police also will get money to help defray the cost of prosecuting the tickets.

The original goal was to have 100 Gwinnett school buses equipped with cameras by Sept. 9 and on 300 buses by the end of the year.

The district has an overall fleet of 1,900 buses and provides the second-largest student transportation service in the country, behind New York City.

After news of the scandal, Redflex announced the resignations of its president, chief financial officer, top salesman and lead attorney. In February, Redflex asked the Australian Securities Exchange to halt trading of its stock to prevent a massive sell-off as news broke about the widening corruption inquiry in Chicago. Trading resumed four days later.

In March, the U.S. Attorney’s Office issued subpoenas related to the investigation. But to date, no legal action has been taken.

In the letter sent Thursday, officials with American Traffic Solutions said Redflex had several opportunities to be transparent with Gwinnett officials about the controversy in Chicago but had “chosen to hide the ball.”

In an interview earlier in the week, Wilbanks said Gwinnett staff had been aware of the scandal. But he said the scandal had not been mentioned in an executive summary of the bid evaluation he received and reviewed.

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