Gwinnett school board gives contract to company with checkered past

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.

12 comments

  1. Jackster says:

    Jason – No elected officials in Gwinnett County Public Schools make decisions regarding contracts, daily operations, or anything the superintendent would authorize. As such, GCPS continues to operate without oversight and under complete control over a non elected official beholden to no one.

    From the July 18 minutes:

    Board approves stop arm cameras for buses
    The Gwinnett County Board of Education approved moving forward with placing stop arm cameras on Gwinnett school buses. The district conducted a pilot this past spring and will be working with REDFLEX Student Guardian– a fully automated school bus stop arm camera photo enforcement solution for monitoring and deterring drivers who illegally pass school buses, risking the safety of children who rely on school bus transportation. This is a turnkey, ready-to-use solution. When the school bus stop arm is activated, the system automatically detects vehicles passing the stopped school bus, requiring no bus driver involvement. The system records a close-up of the vehicle license plate and a broader image of the violation. Initially this fall, the district would look to place cameras on approximately 300 of the district’s 1,800 buses. As the district rolls out this self-sustaining initiative, it will work to remind Gwinnett drivers of the rules regarding this issue. According to Georgia law, vehicles traveling in BOTH directions must stop when a school bus activates its stop arm on a two-lane road or a multi-lane road with no median or barrier. Vehicles travelling in the same direction as a school bus must always stop, but motorists travelling in the opposite direction can proceed (with caution) when there is an unpaved median or concrete barrier separating the opposing lanes.

  2. Anyone But Chip says:

    I’m guessing Debbie Dooley will get right on this and have it all cleared up in no time. She might have to call in the Canton Tea Party for a little back up but then hey, what are friends for. Go get ’em Debbie!

    • Pat Kelly says:

      ABC…, if the contractor receives at least $1,500 for each of these cameras, as was the case in Chicago, then until (and unless) the installation of those cameras results in the collection of over 1,500 fines, Gwinnett tax payers will have not seen a worthwhile ROI.

      This ought to make you wonder, “Are these cameras good investments to make at this time?”

      Personally, I’m curious if this might be as bad of an investment as one in solar energy is. Both are allegedly “sustainable.”

      • Jackster says:

        If energy and revenue were based off of threadjacks, then they would indeed be renewable.

        And i think you were looking for renewable, not sustainable.

        • Pat Kelly says:

          Hey, hey, hey, Jackster, I’m not the thread-jacker here.

          If anything, I’m the anti-thread-jacker, you know, the guy who’s standing up against A.B.C., the TPP-bashing thread-jacker. (Note: I’m half-joking, and the other half also tends to wise off now and then to…)

          I actually did mean to say “sustainable,” b/c the term irks me, but “sustainable” wouldn’t’ve been too bad an alternative.

  3. Anyone But Chip says:

    I take umbrage to the thread-jack remark. The post was not about the fiscal aspects of the deal, it was about the potential for cronyism and corruption.

    Debbie Dooley recently came to Cherokee county along with several non-county tea party activists and leveled fiscal mismanagement and corruption charges against the school board.

    If you take her at face value (which I don’t) she should be up in arms about this happening in her own back yard. A company with a corrupt background, a potential cronyism and graft angle, the school board?? Where is her outrage now?

    She doesn’t have to travel an hour to get in front of a camera for some trumped up issue this time, but apparently it doesn’t fit her agenda.

    • Jackster says:

      I suppose there’s a difference between a threadjack and trolling.

      The link to solar was the “going off topic” moment.

      As for ABC – you need to realize a few things:
      1) This is with the school system, not the county govt.
      2) Nothing has actually run afoul here – it’s more speculation.
      3) Cherokee is chock full o’ nuts, and not in a good tasty aromatic way. If she’s up there making a fuss, it’s probably because y’all have shenanigans afoot. Just like, btw, she made a stink about Gwinnett county’s shenanigans. (and rightfully so)

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