MORNINGSIDE – While the town remains locked in a legal battle over whether or not it failed to comply with the Maryland Public Information Act, it has shut down its speed camera program after choosing not to renew a contract with its vendor — Brekford Corporation. “We have not decided yet [on a new vendor],” […]
MORNINGSIDE – While the town remains locked in a legal battle over whether or not it failed to comply with the Maryland Public Information Act, it has shut down its speed camera program after choosing not to renew a contract with its vendor — Brekford Corporation.
“We have not decided yet [on a new vendor],” said Todd Pounds, attorney for the Town of Morningside. “There are no cameras right now. [The town’s decision] had nothing to do with this lawsuit and it had nothing to do with performance. It was a business decision and we looked at various aspects.”
The previous vendor, Brekford Corporation, managed two speed cameras in previous years.
Montgomery County resident Ron Ely, is involved in a year-long lawsuit with the town over information from the speed cameras that were just shut down.
Ely claims the town violated the Public Information Act by refusing to provide records for annual calibration certificates for Morningside’s two speed cameras, daily set up logs and all correspondence between the town and Brekford.
“I have been mystified that Morningside officials do not seem to want to take responsibility for their own speed camera program and prefer to use legal gimmicks to avoid being transparent,” Ely said.
In June 2013, Ely requested the information from the town but did not hear back within 30 days. The Maryland Public Information Act gives jurisdictions as many as 30 days to provide information and denials should be made within 10 days.
After attempting to follow up five more times during the next two months, Ely finally received an email on Aug. 2 from Pounds.
“We do not have any of the documents that you are requesting especially since the cameras are managed through an outside entity,” the email said.
Ely said the town is required to have the records in its possession.
A speed camera operator must fill out and sign a daily set-up log for a speed monitoring system and keep the records on file, according to transportation article §21-809 in Maryland code.
The speed cameras must also undergo an annual calibration check performed by an independent calibration laboratory. The operator must keep the signed certificate of calibration on file.
In a letter sent to Ely on Aug. 5, 2013, Pounds said the town does not manage its speed camera program.
“Please be advised that the Town of Morningside is not the speed monitoring system operator as that term is defined in the Maryland Annotated Code,” Pounds said. “Therefore the Town of Morningside does not maintain the records and documents pursuant to your request.”
Ely petitioned in Prince George’s County Circuit Court in June 2013 asking the court to direct the town to provide the records he requested and to sanction the town with $1,000 fines for each obstruction of the public information act.
Last month Circuit Court Judge Albert W. Northrop had Ely subpoena the records directly from Brekford. The company has since provided the records.
Brekford’s attorney told Ely through email that the records could have been obtained by Morningside.
“Trained and certified representatives of the client have direct access to this and all information provided in response to your subpoena,” said Matthew Schroll, an attorney at Miles and Stockbridge.
In a May 23 hearing, Ely told Northrop that while he received the documents from Brekford, he still wanted Northrop to decide if Morningside had violated law.
Northrop asked Ely why he cares since he now has the information.
“You can ask for whatever you want, so what? Who cares?” Northrop asked Ely. “The more legitimate question is about parked cars getting clocked going at 48 miles per hour.
“They are supposed to have the records. They did not respond to the original request within 10 days. They say they don’t maintain the program and don’t issue citations,” Ely replied. “Public records are public records even if they are in the hands of the contractor. The Town of Morningside knew where the records were. We could have avoided all of this had they gone on to an online system or emailed Brekford asking them to provide the records.”
Northrop said he would review the arguments and get back to both parties at a later date.