Gwinnett set to do deal with troubled company

Digging Deep

The AJC began digging into the Redflex camera contract more than a year ago, exclusively reporting about that Gwinnett County school officials solicited a $3,500 donation from Redflex to buy food and drinks at a convention of transportation officials shortly before the company received the bid. Since then, we have taken closer looks at the company, the charges it has faced and its dealings with school officials.

How it works

The cameras are meant to catch drivers who illegally pass buses while the stop-arm is out. The camera is placed on the driver’s side of the school bus. It monitors traffic while the stop arm and amber lights are displayed, leaving the bus driver free to focus on students. Evidence of violations, including video and photos, is submitted to local law enforcement to determine whether a citation is warranted. Motorists are sent a citation with a photo of the alleged violation and ordered to pay a fine of $300 for the first violation, $750 for the second offense and $1,000 for a third violation within five years.

The Gwinnett County school board is expected to award a contract for school bus cameras to a company that is at the center of an ongoing federal bribery investigation.

The investigation is based on a contract in Chicago, but one former company official claims the bribery extends to as many as 13 states — including Georgia.

Gwinnett officials agreed in July 2013 to hire Redflex Traffic Solutions to operate external cameras designed to catch motorists who drive past stopped buses. The district put the brakes on the deal shortly afterward when a competitor appealed the decision.

County leaders also conceded they were unaware of the bribery allegations, though they had been reported in the media. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported that a Gwinnett consultant told a Redflex official via email not to mention the Chicago scandal.

Gwinnett officials now say they’ve done their homework on the company and will likely vote at a June 19 board meeting.

“The only time I’ll have an issue with it is if the company itself is guilty of some impropriety or there is an effort to deal improperly with us,” Gwinnett school board chairman Dan Seckinger said.

Seckinger said “my head is not in the sand” about Redflex and added that he’s heard no complaints or concerns from parents or community leaders about the contract.

“Zero. Nada. Not the first one,” he said.

Other cities and counties, though, have cited the investigation to distance themselves from Redflex, an Australian company with U.S. headquarters in Arizona. The list includes Orange County, Fl., and about 50 cities in California, according to various news accounts. Redflex says it has signed or renewed 100 contracts since its own internal investigation, which led to a housecleaning at the company. Redflex said it has contracts with eight Georgia agencies.

Last month, federal prosecutors arrested a retired Chicago city official and charged him with bribery. Investigators allege the official, John Bills, took hundreds of thousands of dollars from Redflex, a condominium in Arizona and other goodies from an unnamed company official to help it get that city’s red light camera contract, the nation’s largest such program.

Prosecutors say bribes occurred from 2003 through 2011. A confidential source cooperated with investigators, telling them about Redflex corruption in Chicago and elsewhere, records show.

Randall Samborn, a spokesman in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago, said the investigation continues but declined further comment.

Redflex lost its $100 million contract with the city as a result of the allegations, the Chicago Tribune reported. The company replaced several top executives.

Redflex sued one fired executive, Aaron Rosenberg, for damages. Rosenberg, in court filings, countered he was being scapegoated and alleged Redflex was involved in bribery in Georgia and other states. Rosenberg’s attorney declined to elaborate on his client’s claims.

Redflex spokeswoman Jody Ryan said the company strongly denies Rosenberg’s claims.

“We are aware of the issue the company had in Chicago and understand that all parties involved are no longer with the company,” Gwinnett schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said via email. “In addition, Redflex has implemented processes and procedures to ensure this type of situation does not occur again.”

Redflex has been very responsive to the school district’s logistical questions about the camera program, she said. Any contract would be for five years with renewal or termination options during that period. Roach said the goal is to have the first cameras operable this fall.

The AJC reported last year that Gwinnett County school officials solicited a $3,500 donation from Redflex to buy food and drinks at a convention of transportation officials shortly before the school board chose its bid. Gwinnett officials noted they sought donations from several vendors, not Redflex specifically.

The other company that bid on the Gwinnett contract, American Traffic Solutions, filed an appeal in 2013 — citing the Chicago controversy and its belief that it made the better bid.

ATS, also based in Arizona, claimed it recorded 47 percent more violations than Redflex during a two month pilot program in Gwinnett to test the cameras. It has current or pending contracts with local school districts such as Atlanta, Cobb and Marietta and manages Gwinnett County's red light camera program.

Gwinnett and Redflex would share revenue from fines collected from motorists caught driving past stopped buses.

The AJC reported last year that the district and Redflex would each collect around $200,000 a month in fines.

ATS contended its program would result in higher collections.

Roach said revenue was not the main criteria, and that safety is the bigger goal.

“This past spring, when GCPS bus drivers conducted their one-day count of vehicles that passed their stopped buses, they counted approximately 2,200 violations IN ONE DAY,” Roach said in an email to the AJC.

Gwinnett denied the ATS appeal last September.

“It was very apparent that Redflex was already entrenched,” ATS spokesman Charles Territo said.

Seckinger, the Gwinnett board chairman, said ATS has been the main source of complaints about the Redflex contract. At this point, Seckinger feels comfortable with Redflex.

“We’ll move forward until we hear differently,” he said.

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