Red Light Camera Pick Not Without Problems
By Matt Barnwell, The Macon Telegraph, Ga.
Jan. 2--The information technology company that Macon officials have selected to post cameras at city intersections has faced a series of legal troubles in recent years.
Affiliated Computer Services, the Dallas, Texas-based company that for the past five years has also handled delinquent fine collections for Macon's Municipal Court, was chosen a few months ago by Mayor Jack Ellis and will soon go to City Council for final approval.
Ellis picked ACS, a Fortune 500 company, over about five other camera vendors reviewed by a committee of administration officials.
Over the past two years, company officials say, ACS has been chosen for almost every significant new red light program, winning contracts in Atlanta, Baltimore and Cleveland, Ohio, among other cities. But that same period also is checkered with legal and ethical missteps:
--In November, the ACS chief executive officer and its chief financial officer resigned after an outside investigation -- sparked by a federal inquiry and subpoenas from a New York grand jury -- implicated the executives in a stock option scandal, according to documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The investigation found that the pair violated the company's code of ethics, and ACS has since appointed a new CEO and CFO.
--In February, a more than 18-month investigation by Canadian authorities ended with charges filed against ACS for bribing police officers in Edmonton, Canada.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the country's federal law enforcement agency, accused ACS of offering secret commissions to two Edmonton police officers to help the company secure a $90-million, 20-year contract to install a photo radar system, according to newspaper reports in the Alberta capital city. The charges have not yet been resolved in court.
--Almost two and a half years ago, ACS agreed to pay the state of Georgia $10 million for delays and operational setbacks that happened after the Department of Community Health hired the company in 2001 to process both Medicaid and state employee health benefit claims, according to company documents filed with the SEC.
The state canceled the second phase of the contract, dealing with employee benefits, after problems surfaced with the system's Medicaid operations.
"It was a debacle," said Macon City Councilwoman Nancy White, who also is director of senior health services and government relations for Coliseum Health System. In that role, she said, she routinely attended monthly DCH meetings that were filled with health-care providers venting complaints about problems ACS caused.
"In terms of a reference check, I would hope that the city of Macon would call the state Department of Community Health and do their due diligence," she said.
City attorneys are negotiating the final compensation details of a contract with ACS, said Mike Anthony, the city's interim chief administrative officer. The company would install 10 cameras in at least five intersections. The agreement must be approved by City Council before it is valid or any cameras are installed. Anthony said he hopes to have the contract drawn up soon.
ACS is a $4.3-billion public corporation that employs about 52,000 people. It supplies business processing and technology outsourcing services to commercial and government clients. The company also claims more than 700 camera enforcement systems in 13 states and five Canadian provinces.
ACS has run "a very efficient operation" for the city court, Ellis said. The mayor said he picked ACS to run Macon's red light camera program based on that relationship, not troubles the company has gotten into elsewhere.
"If I had any indication that they had done something improper or illegal under our contract with them, that would be a completely different story and I would take that very seriously," he said.
Municipal Court Director John Pattan also says the city's business relationship with ACS has thus far gone just fine.
"They have done an outstanding -- that's the only way I can put it -- an outstanding job for the city," said Pattan, a member of the committee that reviewed companies' red light camera proposals.
Since 2001, ACS has held a contract to collect delinquent fines in Municipal Court. In 2004, it was again hired, that time to provide the court with an information management technology system.
The company installed computers, software and other technology to manage the court's cases, dockets, customer service, payment processing, hearing scheduling and other services. ACS also staffs an employee on site in City Hall to oversee its programs, Pattan said.
The city pays 27 percent of the court's revenue each year to ACS, according to the agreement. After the court collects more than $3 million, ACS' portion drops to 20 percent.
Court revenue in the first five months of this fiscal year is up more than $260,000 over the same period last year, Pattan said. He attributes that to stepped-up police traffic enforcement working in concert with ACS technology.
The city's previous computer system consistently crashed, corrupting files and confusing people who had paid their fines with those who had not, Pattan said. That ultimately impeded the enforcement side of fine collection.
"It's almost like comparing a wheel barrow to a jet airliner," he said, speaking about the differences between the two systems.
Pattan was unable to provide yearly court revenues collected or fees paid to ACS since 2001 because he said he could not reach the mayor's spokesman to get clearance to release the numbers. City policy requires approval from Ellis' office for distribution of city information to the media.
Anthony, the CAO, said he had only a very limited awareness of ACS' past issues. But they shouldn't necessarily be a deal stopper, he said.
"That happens in those big companies. You're so spread out and diverse sometimes that that happens," he said.
Councilman Charles Jones, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the contract would be well scrutinized by his committee before it is sent to full council.
The company will not automatically be discarded simply because of its history elsewhere, he said. Large, diverse corporations can be expected to have some problems, but that doesn't mean they would not do a fine job in Macon, he said.
"We'll ask the hard questions of them like we would anyone else," he said.
The committee's vice chairman, Councilman Cole Thomason, echoed Jones' sentiments. He was aware of ACS' bungled relationship with the state but had not heard about the other two episodes. He said he will wait to see the details of the final contract before deciding how to pass judgment.
"Obviously," he said, "there's some questions surrounding this company and their dealings."
To contact Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com].
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Source: The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga.)