County approves new red-light camera contract

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to continue contracting with a controversial Arizona company as county red-light camera operator, saying they’re persuaded the company has cleaned house since revelations last year of its involvement in a Chicago bribery case.

Several supervisors, however, said they were caught by surprise that county staff and sheriff’s officials had recommended re-upping with Redflex Traffic Systems without informing them and County Executive Brad Hudson that the company had run into legal issues in Chicago.

Redflex officials earlier this year said an internal investigation found that a company representative gave an undisclosed amount of money and gifts to the official in charge of the city of Chicago’s red-light camera program. Chicago officials subsequently banned Redflex from competing for new contracts in that city. Redflex announced it had accepted the resignations of four top executives, including its chief executive officer and chief financial officer.

Sacramento Sheriff’s Department officials said they met several times with Redflex officials earlier in the year and came away satisfied that the company had cleaned house and that there were no bribery issues locally. They recommended Redflex earlier this month over three competing companies for a new three-year contract, with the potential for four one-year extensions.

The supervisors gave their approval Tuesday, 5-0, but asked county staff to look into how it can assure, in the future, that the board and county executive be informed early on of potentially charged issues like this one.

“Board members were caught by surprise by (news media) inquiries,” Supervisor Don Nottoli said. “A brief note to somebody outside the sheriff’s realm would have been helpful.”

County Executive Brad Hudson said he too had been unaware of Redflex’s issues until after staff had chosen to recommend Redflex, “but that’s no excuse.” The county’s internal communications protocol “merits additional review,” he said.

Under its new contract, which begins in January, Redflex will continue to operate and maintain cameras at 26 intersections in the city and county, with the possible addition of 14 more intersections over time, officials said. The county and city will pay Redflex $5million for three years. Redflex will receive $11.8million if the contract is extended to seven years.

The county Sheriff’s Department, with assistance from the California Highway Patrol, oversees the intersection camera program in the unincorporated areas of the county, as well as within Sacramento city limits. The Sacramento City Council is expected to approve a memorandum of understanding next week to continue that relationship.

In choosing Redflex, the supervisors rebuffed a protest by American Traffic Solutions, a competing bidder, whose representatives had argued that Redflex is a higher-risk company because it is under federal investigation in the Chicago matter, and possibly also in Louisiana. “When the other shoe drops, how will that affect the integrity of the county’s operation?” asked ATS representative Thomas Woods, an attorney with the Stoel Rives law firm.

Robert DeVincenzi, CEO of Redflex’s global parent company, attended the Sacramento supervisors meeting, telling supervisors his company has repeatedly admitted its mistakes publicly and taken numerous steps to change the company culture for the better since the Chicago situation came to light. Afterward, he said he was pleased Sacramento County had faith in his company.

“The county leadership really does value our partnership,” DeVincenzi said.