Big blow dealt to red light camera plan
Mayor White may have to start all over again
(3/03/06 - KTRK/HOUSTON) - There's more controversy over the city's red light camera plan. That plan is now in jeopardy and no one knows for sure if, and when, those cameras will go up.
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You may remember there were test projects that led up to the red light camera project and four companies all bid on the contract. The Houston Police Department awarded the contract to one of those companies.
But on Friday, it was up to the city council's Public Safety Committee to pass the contract on. They didn't. The Public Safety Committee said they had some issues with the process of the contract and voted it down. That means it gets sent back to the mayor and he'll decide whether or not he wants to start the bidding process over again or send it to city council to be considered anyway. He says he hasn't made that decision yet.
"We'd like to make sure that our citizens are safer as soon as I can," said Mayor White Friday. "But I also know that we have public procurement processes. This is the first time we've done something like this. There are a lot of people lobbying hard behind the scenes and we need to make sure the process is as fair as possible."
If the mayor decides to start the process over again, the Houston Police Department will have to send out the bid for the red light cameras again, which will obviously delay the rollout of the cameras.
(Copyright © 2006, KTRK-TV)
Council may revisit red-light camera deal
Panel questions selection, suggests reopening search for a contractor
By ALEXIS GRANT
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
Houston's plan to use cameras to catch red-light violators hit a roadblock Friday when the City Council's Public Safety Committee recommended reopening the search for a contractor.
After hearing complaints from vendors rejected by the Houston Police Department when it selected a contractor for the project, several committee members said the selection process was flawed.
It's up to Mayor Bill White whether to require HPD to start the process over.
He said Friday he's still reviewing the committee's recommendation.
The Police Department had recommended Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions Inc. to install the system at 50 intersections in the next couple of months.
That timetable will be delayed if the administration agrees to revisit the contract.
"I'm going to look at the specific issues or criticisms that were made by committee," said White, adding that someone usually cries foul on multimillion-dollar contracts.
After grilling Assistant Chief of Police Martha Montalvo, who oversaw the process, about how the vendor was selected, council members said HPD evaluated competing companies based on different criteria than the department initially requested.
"When you start a race and in the middle of the race you change the process, that cannot be counted as being fair," said Council Member Toni Lawrence.
When the council approved the red-light camera plan in 2004, HPD had planned to require that the system photograph both the front and rear license plate of each car that ran a red light. But during the evaluation, companies were required to photograph only the rear tag, which costs less.
Former City Councilman Bert Keller, vice president of sales for Rhode Island-based Nestor Traffic Systems Inc., one of the vendors HPD rejected, said his company submitted a bid under the assumption that it would be photographing both the front and rear tags. Nestor's proposed price was higher than its competitors.
Montalvo said vendors were given adequate notice of all changes.
"I think the Police Department did everything in its power to make sure the process was fair," she said.
Jim Tuton, CEO of ATS, said he was surprised by the committee's recommendation to repeat the vendor selection process.
"It was a fair process, it was a comprehensive process, it was an incredibly expensive process," Tuton said.
During the hearing, he rebutted many of Keller's allegations, including a claim that ATS outsources some work to India.
"We don't outsource anything to anybody," Tuton said. "A lot of this is sour grapes."
Council Member Pam Holm suggested that the council approve the process for the next round of contract evaluation if the mayor agrees to repeat it.
Each of the three companies was evaluated on a scale of 1,000 possible points. ATS ranked first with 912 points, ACS State & Local Solutions Inc. of New Jersey came in second with 823 and Nestor followed with 820 points.
Some members complained that ACS met the requirement for minority participation but did not get credit for it because company officials forgot to fill out one of the application forms. The company would have won the recommendation if those points had been awarded. "This whole process is based on a flawed calculation," said Council Member Addie Wiseman.
Committee members also expressed concern that companies were not evaluated on false triggers — pictures that are later discarded because no violation was committed.
After a monthlong trial during which each company tested equipment at a different Houston intersection, Nestor scored the highest in the testing category but below both ATS and ACS in the categories of experience and success, overall cost to the city, and financial strength.
ATS offered an annual cost of about $2.25 million compared with offers by Nestor and ACS of $3 million and $2.2 million, respectively.