The Red Light Camera Mess in Mt. Juliet

or The City Manager Tricked Me – AGAIN!

Bad city manager! Tricky city manager!

I Find Your Lack of Faith DisturbingIt seems he’s done it again! Using his nefarious jedi mind tricks, the Mt. Juliet City Manager has tricked Mayor Linda Elam and the City Commission into  voting for an ordinance which now embarrasses them.

He does this by carefully having the city attorney draft an ordinance. Then he actually gives it to Mayor Elam and the Commissioners a week ahead of the meeting. And then, he sits back and allows them to debate, ask questions, and vote on it at two separate meetings!

It’s no wonder that Mayor Elam and the Commission have no idea what they’ve voted on.

Twice this has happened (that we know about!)

Back in May, an outraged Mayor Elam actually put into the introduction to an amendment to the City Personnel Ordinance that the changes were “not brought to the attention of the board of commissioners.” RFMJ covered that debacle in a post titled, The City Manager Tricked Me!

Now she’s complaining that the contract approved by the City Commission with American Traffic Solutions will cost too much money to terminate. Mayor Elam has admitted in an email to The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet that she did not read the contract that she voted for. She blamed staff for not telling the commission about penalties spelled out in the contract if the City terminates it early.

There are shocking numbers in the reports in The Chronicle and in the Mt. Juliet News. In just six months (since January of this year), over $400,000 has been extorted from the citizens of Mt. Juliet. Two-thirds of that amount has been sent to ATS, headquartered in Scottsdale, AZ.

In a delicious bit of irony, just below the Red Light Camera story in The Chronicle is an article about Mayor Elam kicking off her fall campaign for a seat in the state legislature.

We do NOT need another legislator who makes mistakes, doesn’t bother to read the legislation they’re voting on, and then blames staff for all the problems.

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19 Comments

Filed under Mt. Juliet City Commission

19 responses to “The Red Light Camera Mess in Mt. Juliet

  1. Butch Huber

    I saw that tidbit in a video post on face book. She said, “shame on city staff” for not telling us about it. I thought, “shame on city staff? Shame on you for not reading the stupid contract before you voted on it.”

    It seems that it would cost too much for the city to terminate the contract, but I am sure that it wouldn’t cost American Traffic Solutions anything to terminate the contract with Mt. Juliet. But then, why would they terminate such a great contract? It appears they have most likely already recouped their investment in putting the cameras in place and nearly every dime that comes in now will likely be profit to them. Why give up that contract on your own initiative?

    The problem with lawmakers is that they see a contract the way a lawyer or a lawmaker would see a contract. They say, “oh, well, I guess we are stuck with this.” I see a contract the way a business person sees a contract. Well, first, as a business person, I actually start out by reading the contract, but I guess that is too much to ask of a politician. I see holes and gaps in contracts, I read between the lines in a contract and I see the things that the contract “doesn’t say”.

    I know that one of the last things that American Traffic Solutions wants is a major letter writing and email blasting campaign to start up when that campaign is designed to let every other city in this country know how much we think of American Traffic Solutions and their business. I know that the last thing that American Traffic Solutions wants is to have people raising enough of a stink to have the law changed in Tennessee so that it disallows the use of Traffic Surveillance cameras in Tennessee. I know it is in their best interests to let the city of Mt. Juliet out of their contract without penalty. American Traffic Solutions doesn’t know that it is in their best interests yet, but they can be made to see that it is in their best interests. If presented properly, “Think Tony Soprano”, I think they would get the peanut.

    Yeah, they have a valid contract. Yes, the city is obligated to fulfill that contract and they will. But in that contract does it say that the city can’t send a letter to every city throughout the state to update them on how the surveillance camera program is working and how much we like American Traffic Solutions for putting together a contract that has us bound to it to tune of $800,000 even after they have made about $100,000 profit off of their cameras here? Does it say that we can’t say, “Even after having compensated them for their investment and after them having made profits from the endeavor, in spite of tremendous public outrage over the decision to install the cameras, American Traffic Solutions is insisting on charging us $800,000 to install the cameras?” Does it say that we can’t inform the public throughout Tennessee?

    Now, from the businesses perspective I can fully understand American Traffic Solution’s position. They installed the lights in good faith. They took the time to come here and install the lights and make the program work. Now that they are making profits from the project they feel they are entitled to continue with the agreement and I can’t blame them. However, perhaps they were a little over zealous with their contract in their effort to hamstring the city into a no holds barred termination clause.

    I am sure there is a compromise that is fair to both the city and American Traffic Solutions, but they need to come to the city with that compromise. I am sure if the city were to appropriate $50,000 to put into a fund that is established to inform the public and to inform other cities of the benefits as well as pitfalls of doing business with American Traffic Solutions and then inform American Traffic Solutions that there is a campaign afoot to inform the public they would soon change their attitude.

    The letter should go something like:

    Dear Public Official:

    The City Commission and the Citizens of Mt. Juliet are communicating with you today to inform you about our new Traffic Surveillance Camera Program in Mt. Juliet. The City Commission of Mt. Juliet voted to allow American Traffic Solutions, the company that owns, installs, and maintains Traffic Surveillance equipment for the purpose of issuing citations to Civilians for having broken state law, to install their equipment here under contract with the city.

    We couldn’t have been happier with American Traffic Solutions as a company until we decided that, in light of tremendous citizen outrage over the lights, we needed to terminate the program. It seems they put into their contract a little ditty that allows them to hit us with a charge of $800,000 if we were to terminate the agreement. Now, to be honest, we did sign that deal, however, we didn’t quite understand exactly what we were getting ourselves into.

    It turns out that, when it comes to surveillance cameras, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. Yes, we are making a little money off the program, but due to the fact that we have a police officer review every citation, which we think is appropriate, there is little profit to us. We can say with certainty that the profit we have made off the program isn’t worth the flack we have gotten from the citizens over having installed traffic surveillance cameras in this city. It turns out that citizens don’t like the cameras. It seems they don’t like government putting together programs that seem too, how would you say, “big brotherish”. They view those cameras as government oppression. Who would have figured? If you want a program that you can vote on as a commission or government body where, no matter how much public outcry you suffer for having made the mistake of installing traffic surveillance cameras in your community, you can’t get out of unless you pay an $800,000 penalty for termination of your agreement with them, well, American Traffic Solutions is your company. Hope all is well in your community. Keep up the good work and remember there are Constitutions to uphold. Hope this helps!

    Sincerely,

    The unhappy City Commissioners and Citizens of Mt. Juliet

    Yeah, I know, the way that was written wasn’t all purdy and ev’rthing, but it do get da point acrorst, don’t it? I am sure that we could put our minds together to write a nice frilly and legal letter that is designed to inform without any form of liable involved, couldn’t we? I am sure American Traffic Solutions would opt not to have this city send out those letters by compromising a bit, wouldn’t you agree?

    A friend of mine on more than one occasion has told me, “this city commission’s problem is that they pay full price for everything they do”. I am beginning to believe that he was right.

    Perhaps they also need to be reminded of who Linda Elam is…..ohhhh ahhhh! She is about to be crowned “Queen of the state legislature!” I wonder if she could influence a few other legislators into making traffic light surveillance cameras illegal in this state? Hummmm? Just a thought. But I digress, Linda Elam wouldn’t use her office to imply she would intentionally do harm to someone if they didn’t do what she told them, would she? Nah.

    Yeah, I guess we are stuck with this contract, no way out of it, we have to stay with the program. Move along, nothing left to look at here.

  2. Southsider

    It appears our Mayor is consistent.

    Consistently a phony but at least she is consistent.

  3. NoSider

    Why aren’t the papers and everyone on this site not in “public outcry mode” over the fact that the Mayor thinks it’s ok to ignore a law just because citizens are complaining about it? ” You mean you don’t like being caught and fined for running a red light? Ok, let’s just ignore that one. How about speeding? You don’t like those tickets either? Ok, those are gone too. Actually, lets just ignore ALL pesky traffic laws here in Mt. Juliet! The citizens don’t like them!!” Yes, I realize the above scenario is over-simplified, but surely you can see it’s quite the slippery slope.

    And Mr. Huber, you seriously think it’s a good idea to send out letters to other cities saying essentially that we’re a bunch of dumb hillbillies that didn’t actually read the contract we agreed to, but now that we want out, we’re going to try to demonize the company and make them let us out of said contract without honoring our part? Yes, it probably will get us some sympathy, but more along the lines of. “Aww, bless their little ole dumb hearts!” NOT “Yeah! Down with the the Big Brother Company! They are tricking small towns by stating in writing what is expected and then actually holding them to their obligations.”

    I’ve received one of the red light tickets and I was upset at the time. I turned right on red! That’s allowed! Then I logged on to the website to watch my “violation” before calling the police department to complain, and there it was…..me, slowing down, but never actually stopping before I turned. I mailed payment the next day.

  4. Southsider

    The Mt. Juliet Mayor has a history of taking credit for every good thing that ever happened in the universe while blaming all her mistakes on Mt. Juliet city staff.

    This is just the latest example. There are many, many more.

  5. Charles Brown

    Here are 2 simple options to consider
    1) Have the police not review the incidents within the alotted time frame.
    or
    2) Have the citizens dispute the charge (if they paid by credit card) once they see it on thewir monthly statement. That causes the vendor to be charged a sum of money for the dispute thus rendering the event as none profitable for them. After a few months they will gladly pull out.

    What is interesting is the fact that other contracts with this vendor have a “Termination for Convenience” clause in them. Someone did not negotiate well in Mt. Juliet.

  6. Southsider

    Blaming the City Manager for this horrible contract will not fix the problem. He doesn’t have a vote.

    Reading the ordinances before voting on them would help.

  7. Butch Huber

    Nosider,

    Think about it, do you think the letters would ever be sent? Really? I am quite certain that American Traffic Solutions would change their position and compromise. They deserve a reasonable return on their investment, but $800,000 is a seriously punitive sum and they know it. Just because you “Can” get a “bunch of dumb hillbillies” to sign a contract doesn’t mean you are going to get what you put in the contract.

    American Traffic Solutions has apparently decided to adopt this new contract language for their contracts. Since they think that language is in their best interests I am sure they wouldn’t want this city to alert every other city they are intent on doing business with about the clause. I can almost guarantee that they would rather have this contract go away then to have the letters go out to their potential clients.

    It isn’t so much the tickets, I don’t think, it is the fact that we now have a bunch of machines issuing tickets. Nobody, that I have heard, has said a thing about not having actual police enforce the law, we just don’t want to have cameras issuing citations to citizens. It just somehow seems “wrong”.

    How could anyone complain about a police officer legitimately giving them a ticket for turning on red or going through a light? If they are caught red handed they are caught red handed. But a camera? That, I believe, is the issue.

  8. Southsider

    The Mt. Juliet traffic light cameras will probably never give me a ticket. I drive like the old man time has forced me to become. I don’t like the traffic cameras for a couple of other reasons.

    Fines are not taxes. The state gives cities the right to tax and collect money from the public to spend on various services – roads, parks, emergency services, etc. A citizen chooses the level of services and taxation at election time through their choice of representative.

    A fine is not supposed to be revenue, it is supposed to be a cost. It is supposed to be the exact cost of enforcement. The theory here is that the innocent should not have to pay the cost of enforcement. The innocent should not subsidize the guilty. I would make the point that the guilty should not subsidize the innocent either.

    The traffic light cameras in Mt. Juliet are subsidizing innocent people in Arizona. The current contract produces a huge subsidy that far exceeds the cost of taking digital pictures. The Mt. Juliet Commission has allowed these fines at intersections to become a huge revenue collection device for a private software company.

    The other reason I don’t like these cameras is because it reduces Police contact with offenders. The camera cannot recover a stolen car or stop a DUI in progress, a Police Officer can. We have all read the newspaper story where a fugitive was “apprehended during a routine traffic stop”. It happens all the time. In Mt. Juliet that stop may never take place in favor of sending a ticket in the mail. I would rather have the Police Officer who is reviewing these camera pictures enforcing the law in person at these intersections.

    I believe the City of Mt. Juliet can get out of its camera contract. The public can be protected by the judicial branch of government even when it has been let down by it’s legislative branch. Mt. Juliet has allowed a software company in another state to profit from fines levied at intersections. Fines that far exceed the cost of enforcement.

    The state could pass a law to remedy this problem too. Who knows, Linda Elam may get a chance to vote on such a bill if she is elected to the House.

    One can only hope she reads it first.

  9. NoSider

    Does anyone know if the city attorney was at any of the meetings regarding the traffic cameras before it was passed? Doesn’t he have to read over the contracts and give his legal opinion as to whether it’s a good/fair deal for the city? I know the Commissioners should do this as well, being that they are the ones who actually vote, but it stands to reason that someone somewhere should be reading the fine print.

    This is especially disturbing if Mr. Brown is correct and most other contracts with this vendor have an escape clause that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

    I’m not a lawyer or judge but I find it hard to believe that if we sue or are sued, any judge would find in our favor regarding the contract being unfair or too costly to terminate. As it currently stands, I’m assuming there’s nothing illegal in it, the Commissioners were not coerced, and are of sound mind and duly elected to act on behalf of the citizens of Mt. Juliet. Was it a crappy and kinda sneaky thing to do? YES…but we agreed to it at the time.

    And Southsider, just ask Sgt. Mark Chestnut from Metro Nashville PD what can happen on a routine traffic stop. His assailants are on trial this very week for shooting him during a traffic stop. I know that’s one of the risks of the job, but I think that’s one GOOD thing about the traffic cameras. Keep in mind that the police are still writing stop sign and traffic light violations in person as well.

    I think one of the reasons people are so displeased with the cameras is that they are unaware that you have to come to a full and complete stop before turning right on red. Perhaps a public service announcement in the Mt. Juliet media similar to Click It Or Ticket would help out? Those ads blatantly tell you that it’s the law to buckle your seat belt and if you are caught without it on, you WILL get a ticket. If you recall, there was statewide backlash on this issue as well when it first passed.

  10. Southsider

    Sgt. Chestnut’s incident took people off the street who may have shot you or me. The red light cameras would have sent a ticket to the person who owned the stolen car.

    My point is that fines are not taxes. Fines are supposed to reflect the cost of enforcement only. The Mt. Juliet elected officials should have known this since each have been through the MTAS elected official class. This point is well covered.

    My guess is that the Mt. Juliet City Attorney and City Manager did describe the camera contract properly.

    This would never be a (Commission) issue if Elam had not started knocking on doors asking for votes.

  11. Logic Al

    Southsider raises some interesting points. One he didn’t mention is that Mayor Elam couldn’t vote on a red light camera bill in the House if she remained Mayor of Mt. Juliet. That would be a clear conflict of interest given her local political attachment to this “fumbled” issue.

    Just another reason why holding two seats is a bad idea.

  12. Will i am

    “You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.”

    Albert Einstein

  13. Doc Cider

    The mayor’s consistent pattern of blaming whoever is available for her own incompetence is once again clearly shown here.

    Sadly, the article announcing the kickoff of Elam’s State Rep campaign does not contain the disclaimer ‘submitted’. But Tomi is no dummy, she probably placed it in that location on purpose. Readers can see the stark difference between a mayor who doesn’t read contracts and blames everybody else for her mistakes and a mayor who ‘created an economic miracle and singlehandedly built a retail empire here with her conservative low-tax philosophy’.

    I won’t be voting Republican in the State Assembly race for the first time since I moved here, but however you vote in the Assembly race, everyone should support the referendum on holding multiple elected offices. If (when) it passes and if (if) Elam wins the Assembly race I’ll bet money on her taking it to court.

  14. Sonny Griffin

    Does anybody really believe that Linda Elam did not read the contract?

    Think about it.

  15. She was for the contract before she was against it.

  16. Paul Deyo

    Of course she read it. In a closet with a flashlight.

  17. Old Blevins

    A lawyer who doesn’t read contracts? That could lead to a lawsuit! Oh, yeah, that’s right…….

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