TN officials unaware of alleged scandal with red light camera contractor

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Officials in 10 Tennessee towns and cities contract with a red light camera company, Redflex, which is receiving intense scrutiny nationwide after allegations it was involved in a large bribery scandal in Chicago.

Tennessee Watchdog was able to reach officials in four of those 10 government entities — and only one of them knew anything about the reports.

RALPH MCGILL

Ben Harkins, a program manager for Farragut’s Traffic Enforcement Program, didn’t comment on the reports he had read, other than to say no company officials have ever tried to bribe him.

“We don’t accept trips, dinners or anything like that. Everyone pays their own way,” Harkins said, adding the town, which has about 20,000 people, only has four intersections with these cameras.

“Redflex has tried to assure us that they don’t want this to happen again.”

Farragut Mayor Ralph McGill, who has to approve renewal contracts with Redflex, didn’t know about the company’s troubles in Illinois.

Farragut’s taxpayers pay nothing to the Arizona-based Redflex, Harkins said, although the company gets a hefty portion of every fine.

“Once Redflex got the contract, at their own expense they install new equipment and provide all maintenance. The company gets the lion’s share of a $50 fine the town gives to someone caught racing through a red light,” Harkins said, adding that amounts to about $37 for the company and $13 for the town.

RED LIGHT: Is trouble brewing with a company many Tennessee towns and cities have hired for its red light cameras?

The town’s contract with Redflex expires at the end of this year, Harkins said, adding the company originally competed against four other vendors to get the current contract.

According to the Chicago Tribune, a fired Redflex executive, Aaron Rosenberg, said in a lawsuit the company hands out bribes and gifts to dozens of municipalities in Chicago and 13 states.

The paper reported that Rosenberg is participating in an ongoing federal investigation on the matter.

“The explosive allegations, accompanied by few specifics, suggest investigators may be examining Redflex’s business practices around the country in the wake of the company’s admission last year that its flagship camera program in Chicago was likely built on a $2 million bribery scheme,” according to the Tribune.

“Redflex fired Rosenberg and sued him for damages in an Arizona court in February, largely blaming him for the company’s wrongdoing in Chicago.”

The company lost a $100 million contract with Chicago after the Tribune reported a sketchy relationship between Redflex and a city official, although it continues to operate the city’s red light camera program, the paper reported.

In addition to Tennessee, Rosenberg said the company bribed officials in California, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, Virginia and Georgia, the Tribune reported.

Redflex spokeswoman Jody Ryan told Tennessee Watchdog in an e-mail the company has made several changes within to correct any problems.Jody Ryan, including introducing a new whistleblower program.

“Since we announced the findings of our internal investigation, we have signed, renewed or executed over 90 contracts,” Ryan said.

The towns and cities in Tennessee that contract with Redflex, in addition to Farragut, according to Ryan are:

  • Oak Ridge
  • Johnson City
  • Kingsport
  • Mount Carmel
  • Selmer
  • Union City
  • Morristown
  • Clarksville
  • Jackson

Officials in Selmer, Union City and Jackson told Tennessee Watchdog they also didn’t know of the reports about Redflex’s alleged bribery in Chicago.

Watchdog.org reported in January that Rosenberg had a business partnership with the city of Tacoma, Wash., in his official capacity with the company.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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