SeaTac City Council to consider new red light camera vendor

A Redflex red light camera in Burien. That city’s red light cameras were removed in 2012.

By Jack Mayne

The SeaTac City Council balked at a proposed three year extension of a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, the Australian company that operates three red light cameras on 188th and both Military Road and International Blvd., because the vendor’s former chief executive officer is in jail.

Instead, Council opted at the study session on Tuesday, May 9, to have city staff seek a short term extension of the current Redflex contract that expires on July 1 while additional companies are researched prior to possibly finding a new company – because of Redflex’s legal problems.

Mayor Michael Siefkes said the issue was not the red light cameras but “whether we continue with Redflex” whose former chief executive officer was recently jailed on charges of corruption and bribery.

Jailed CEO
Former Redflex CEO Karen Finley was sentenced to jail on multiple federal charges last winter according to story last November in the New Times weekly in Phoenix, where Redflex has its U.S. headquarters. Redflex is an Australian company with headquarters in South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

“A federal judge sentenced former Redflex CEO Karen Finley to 30 months in prison last week for her role in a bribery scheme to win photo-enforcement contracts in Chicago.

The New Times said Federal District Judge Virginia Kendall also ordered Finley to pay $2 million in restitution, telling the 57-year-old Arizonan “there is no sense of corporate social responsibility there” and that the case had significant impact on the public.

In 2015 she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery in an Illinois case and will serve her sentence concurrently with a 14-month prison term she received a month earlier for a similar but smaller bribery scheme in Ohio. She is serving both sentences concurrently.

Find a new vendor
“I think the city deserves the very best and if we are dealing with a vendor whose CEO is in jail for corruption dealing with red light cameras, I don’t think we should deal with them anymore,” Siefkes said, adding he is also personally opposed to the cameras.

But, even if the city was going to continue having red light cameras, he suggested Police Chief Lisa Mulligan research other vendors, which has not been done since the contract was signed 10 years ago with Redflex.

“I hate doing business with felons,” said Councilmember Tony Anderson, so other companies should be researched. Anderson, a retired commander in the Port of Seattle Police, said he favors the cameras because they catch people police officers might not.

Councilmember Erin Sitterley said she would feel better if new and other vendors were researched. Another proponent of finding a different vendor was Councilmember Rick Forschler.

Councilmember Peter Kwon said there is an argument that the presence of a camera could cause a driver to slam on the brakes and cause a rear-ender accident, but at 188th accidents “did increase by a little bit.” He wanted a new bidding on a contract with another company that could also provide traffic volume data.

Deputy Mayor Pam Fernald and Councilmember Kathryn Campbell were both ill and did not attend the meeting.

Violators from elsewhere
Mulligan said Redflex reviews the video captured from the three camera sites and of the 3,727 average of violations, over 80 percent are from outside SeaTac.

Potential violation videos are then sent to SeaTac Police for final decision that takes local officers about two hours a week to process. Redflex staff actually mails the notice of violation and fine after city police officers first review them.

Redflex gets $206,469 a year, she said, and the city’s net revenue in 2016 was $156,608.

“It is not a big money maker for the city,” said Mulligan, but the city has never lost money on the cameras

She added that “it is difficult to know for sure” if the cameras are working on reducing intersection problems. Reductions in collisions are never consistent; although there are fewer collisions now than before cameras were installed 10 years ago.

“Does that mean that we are really reducing collisions? I don’t think the data really says that but the data does show we are not increasing our collisions,” Mulligan told Council.

The cameras do mean that her officers do not have to monitor these intersections and can be elsewhere “to actually fight crime in our community … a great benefit.”

For, against
Resident Robert Dent, during public comment period, said before the red light cameras were installed there “wasn’t one day when I didn’t see at least one car run through the red light” and that he was “vehemently opposed to removing those.”

Vickie Lockwood also said she wanted the cameras kept “because there are a lot of people who run red lights because they are in a hurry for whatever reason.”

Earl Gipson, SeaTac Blog columnist and regular city commentator, opposed the camera contract and said the city could buy its own red light cameras, install them and use them cheaper than paying “a pile of money” to Redflex.

Road improvments
The Council at study session gave preliminary approval of a contract for Parametrix Inc. of Seattle to design improvements at Military Road South and South 152nd Street.

Assistant City Engineer Janet Mayer says the contract, not to exceed $650,000, is to design “safety improvements along the Military Road South corridor that will establish a physical separation between motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.”

The project will eventually include bike lanes buffered from traffic, curbs and gutters, and sidewalks and planter strips on both sides of the street, along with street lighting, removal of “fixed hazards” and install signals.

The project will include burying utility lines and “remove numerous fixed objects from the clear zone of the roadway, improving sight distances and visibility.”

“The safety improvements provided by this project should decrease the frequency of accidents, injuries and fatalities occurring along this corridor,” the city staff told Council.

The Council gave preliminary approval for a public hearing on June 27 on a request from Segale Properties to vacate of the right-of-way for an unopened and unplanned Orillia Road extension. Segale owns all of the surrounding property.

Lawrence Ellis, the Parks, Community Programs and Services director presented the 10 Year Service Award to Linda Croadsdill, a city recreation program specialist.

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