On May 6th, JoAnn Fleming of Grassroots America We the People (GAWTP) filed a formal complaint with the Smith County district attorney’s office and the Texas attorney general’s office requesting an investigation into a contract, and the process by which it was adopted, regarding speeding cameras that was entered into by the Smith County Judge Joel P. Baker and commissioners.
The contract in question was entered into January 28, 2015, is a 10 year contract with a 5-year auto-renew clause between Smith County and American Traffic Solutions, Inc, to install and operate between 10 and 20 speeding cameras throughout the county.
“We believe there have been multiple violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, and in addition, at the very least, a breach of fiduciary duty to the people of Smith County,” JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director of GAWTP said of the contract and its attendant processes in a May 6th press release.
The complaint begins arguing against the constitutionality of the use of traffic cameras, citing attorney general opinion No. GA-0846, and Section 542.2035 of the Transportation Code, which prohibits a municipality from implementing or operating “an automated traffic control system with respect to a highway or street under its jurisdiction for the purpose of enforcing compliance with posted speed limits. “Counties, unlike cities, have no general ordinance-making authority; therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that if municipalities are prohibited from implementing speed cameras, counties are definitely on tenuous legal grounds to enter into a contract for such a system,” the letter argues.
Further, they argue the process that was pursued by the county judge and others violated the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA), by discussing the matter in an August 12, 2014 closed session, and approving the agreement without revealing details to the public.
“The Texas Open Meetings Act requires that an agenda notice describe the subject matter to be discussed or acted upon with enough specificity that a member of the general public will know what is to be discussed. A cursory review of the August 12, 2014 agenda reveals a failure to comply with TOMA on many agenda topics — not just the one under consideration within this complaint,” the letter states.
Fleming articulates several other points against the legitimacy of the contract, including lack of due diligence, breach of fiduciary duty, violation of the Transportation Code in several respects, and lack of state statute authorizing the penalties.
Also of note is the fact that the cost per camera is listed at $8,700 a month, almost $6,000 higher than a contract performed by the same contractor only last year. Combined with the unorthodox and arguably secretive way in which this contract was executed, Smith County residents’ suspicion is certainly warranted.
Interestingly, the contract has little to no support from municipalities, school districts, or even the Smith County Tax Assessor Collector. Since issuing the request for investigation, the Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham has recused himself from any investigation into the complaint on the grounds of attorney-client privilege, referencing Assistant District Attorney Phillip Smith’s relationship with the Smith County Commissioners Court. In response, Fleming has asked for an advancement of the official recusal and Motion for Appointment of an Attorney Pro Tem.
Traffic enforcement cameras have been a very contentious issue for residents over the past several years due to problems with constitutionality, malfunction, and cronyism. While it is unsettling to see so many elected officials eager to implement these overwhelmingly unpopular devices at the behest of the companies that develop them, it is inspiring in several ways to see citizens banding together to challenge them, and the often unscrupulous processes by which they’re implemented.