There is a growing push in local school systems around Georgia to install cameras in school buses to help catch drivers who ignore “stop” arms while children are getting off the bus to go home. Gwinnett County is one of the latest to be drawn to the allure of these cameras pushed by Redflex Traffic Systems, a company that specializes in the technology:
Approved this week by Gwinnett County Public Schools officials, it’s a measure that will go into effect when classes start in August. Since it is 100 percent violator funded, there is no cost to the taxpayer.
“The fines generate the cost of the maintenance, and (revenue) is split between the company, the police department and school district,” said Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks. He said that first offenders would pay $300, second-time violators: $500; and third-time offenders $750.
“It’s a growing concern,” Wilbanks said. “It’s alarming the number of people who do it. It’s against the law, and it’s an unsafe situation.”
Chairman Carole Boyce said she hoped the measure would “improve safety all around.”
According to the website for Redflex Traffic Systems — the company that the school board decided to contract with — there are no upfront costs, and using the cameras offers the chance to “generate surplus funds.”
So it boils down to one thing for these school systems — money. Often cash-strapped, especially during persistently tough economic times, school boards are trying to find ways to come up with cash. These cameras, given that they don’t have any upfront costs and don’t hit taxpayers with a higher tab, are an attractive means for additional revenues.
But all may not be as it appears with Redflex. There have been past charges of ethics breaches and corruption. Just last year, the Arizona-based traffic camera company found itself mired in a scandal with a Chicago official:
Prompted by a Tribune investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in Chicago’s red-light camera program, an Arizona-based firm has disclosed it paid a $910 luxury hotel tab for the city official in charge of its contract and failed to tell City Hall about the ethics breach for two years.
The company also acknowledged to the newspaper it did not disclose internal allegations about ties between the city official and a Redflex contractor who received more than $570,000 in commissions — $1,500 for each of the 384 cameras the company installed in Chicago.
This scandal eventually resulted in the company being excluded from further negotiations with the city. Let me note this again — Redflex was barred from doing business with the City of Chicago because of corruption allegations.
This is a city known for its brash, often shady style of politics. But yet, the actions of Redflex were apparently so sketchy, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former White House Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama, used them as an example for other businesses looking to gain contracts with Chicago:
“The moment we heard about the prior action that Redflex did two years ago, prior to my administration, within 24 hours, rather 48 hours, we made it very clear they are not allowed to bid on the speed cameras,” Emanuel said following an unrelated news conference today.
“They are barred. I want to send a clear message to everyone there will be zero tolerance for these kinds of actions. So while it’s directed specifically at Redflex and what it did in 2010 prior to my being mayor, there will not only be zero tolerance — I want other firms that do business with the city to understand that action,” the mayor went on. “As it pertains to the red light cameras, we sent it over to the inspector general, that’s where it belongs right now.”
Were Gwinnett County officials aware of Redflex’s past behavior? If not, didn’t anyone think to do a simple Google search on the business and its past dealings? And if they did know about it, were those concerns addressed with the business with which they were about to enter into an agreement? If not, why?
These are just some of the questions Gwinnett residents should ask their elected officials. Taxpayers may not be on the hook in this particular equation, but Redflex’s past actions are indicative of cronyism and corruption that ultimately hurts citizens in one way or another. Elected officials in Gwinnett County should address these concerns immediately.