Friday, January 23, 2009
Red Light Contract in City Hall Morass
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
Drivers busted by the city's red light cameras don't get "do-overs."
But the administration of Mayor Martin Chávez might need one after possibly jumping the gun and signing a new five-year deal to extend the controversial program.
But did the city really do a new deal? That's just one question in a tangled morass.
Pete Dinelli, Albuquerque's chief public safety officer, said the signing was a "clerical error." He said the administration doesn't want to extend the contract until it sees what action, if any, the Legislature takes on red light cameras.
The program has drawn legislative ire in the past as lawmakers and Gov. Bill Richardson tried to kill it outright, then strangled the program's finances.
The city's red light camera prospects might have improved, however, since other cities around the state are implementing them.
Then there's the matter of council approval for a new deal.
Dinelli said the official who signed the extension with Redflex through 2014 noted on the contract that it was subject to council approval, even though council approval isn't required.
Regardless, Dinelli says the administration intends to submit it to the council.
The signing came to light this week when mayoral candidate and City Councilor Michael Cadigan grilled the administration about it during a meeting.
He said it doesn't make sense for the administration to acknowledge it signed a contract but then claim it isn't valid.
"I think they need to get their stories straight," he said. "... This is perhaps the most controversial issue in the city of Albuquerque in the last four years. For them to extend this thing with no public input, no public comment, no checks and balances, indicates an imperial attitude."
Cadigan maintains council approval is required.
Dinelli, meanwhile, said he wasn't sure if Redflex actually signed the agreement but suspects it did.
A Redflex spokeswoman said the company worked with the city over six months and "a new contract was developed and agreed to." The contract will be presented to the City Council "for final authorization," spokeswoman Shoba Vaitheeswaran said in an e-mail.
So despite disagreeing over whether they need to, it appears all parties agree the council will get a shot at the contract depending on what happens in the Legislature.
At this point, Albuquerque must hand over some of its camera revenue to state government, even though other cities don't have to. The state also capped the fines Albuquerque can charge.
"At this point, the administration would like to proceed and continue with the program," Dinelli said Thursday in an interview. "However, we're very concerned about the Legislature. We want to be treated equally."
Without an extension, the Redflex contract would expire at the end of this year.
It's already emerging as a political football in this year's election although Chávez hasn't formally declared he's running for mayor.
Chávez has been a strong supporter of the cameras, while Cadigan has been a critic.
The Chávez administration, meanwhile, wants Cadigan to recuse himself from voting on any future contracts with Redflex because an attorney in Cadigan's law firm represented the company at one point.
Cadigan contends the attorney, Al Park, is an independent contractor who merely uses the corporate structure of Cadigan's firm and pays overhead. Cadigan said he had nothing to do with the work Park did on behalf of the company and that he has no direct or indirect financial interest in the company's fate.
Cadigan said he has generally voted against what would be considered Redflex's interests anyway.
The city of Santa Fe, meanwhile, is working on a five-year contract with Redflex to develop a red-light-camera program. Las Cruces has already signed a five-year agreement.
Citations resulting from the cameras were on pace last year to reach more than 100,000.