UPDATE: Speed Camera Company Discloses Its Support of 'Grassroots' Group
ACS backed local pro-speed camera group. Also: The Curious Case of the Missing Revenue Authority Board Members.
UPDATED (11 p.m.)—A "grassroots" organization that advocated for expanding Baltimore County's speed camera program is now disclosing on its Facebook page that it is supported by the company that supplies the devices to the county.
Slow Down for Baltimore County Schools, a Towson-based group, now carries the following disclosure on its Facebook page: "Slow Down for Baltimore County Schools is supported by Affiliated Computer Services."
A similar statement can also be found on the Slow Down for Howard County Schools Facebook page.
The relationship between the company that stands to benefit from Baltimore County legislation expanding the use of speed cameras and the two grassroots groups had not been previously disclosed until after Patch reported on it in February.
Chris Gilligan, a spokesman for Dallas-based ACS State and Local Solutions, sent a statement to Patch on Tuesday explaining the recent disclosure.
"When it became clear that we needed to do more to inform visitors to the websites of our involvement, language was added to the sites to more clearly describe our commitment to these public safety campaigns," Gilligan wrote in an email.
"It is ACS’ policy to be transparent and disclose our involvement in community education campaigns," his email states. "ACS supports local groups and safety advocates who are making our roads safer by giving parents the safety measures they are seeking. We support the parents in our communities with the tools they need to spread their message."
In February Patch was the first to report that Slow Down for Baltimore County Schools was receiving assistance from Kearney O'Doherty Public Affairs, a politically-connected strategy firm that represents ACS State and Local Solutions, also known as Affiliated Computer Services.
Kearney O’Doherty Public Affairs was started in 2008 by two former top advisers to state and county Democratic leaders. Steve Kearney was Gov. Martin O’Malley’s communications director and Damian O’Doherty was a top aide to former County Executive Jim Smith until 2006.
Howard Libit, an executive with Kearney O'Doherty Public Affairs, set up a companion website for Slow Down for Baltimore County Schools that linked to the group's Facebook page, according to Sarah Dennis, the Facebook group's founder. The website also allowed visitors to click a button that would send a pre-written letter asking Baltimore County Council members to support a bill to expand the speed camera program. That legislation passed on Feb. 7.
ACS holds the contract for the 15 speed cameras in the county and received 81 cents of every dollar in speed camera fines the county collected last year. The company stands to benefit from the legislation that authorizes the county to use an unlimited number of the devices.
Gilligan's statement did not respond to questions asking about what type of "support" and "tools" the company provided to the Baltimore and Howard county "grassroots" groups. He also did not say when ACS placed the disclosures on the Facebook pages.
O’Doherty told Patch in December that his firm has been working with ACS and a coalition of “educators, parents and elected officials to bring (speed cameras) to Maryland.”
When asked in February about his firm’s support specifically for the group Slow Down For Baltimore County Schools, O’Doherty wrote: "Let me be clear: KO Public Affairs is very supportive and ACS also applauds these parents. Speed cameras are very popular here in Maryland."
Gilligan's statement did not respond to questions about how many other such groups the company supports. He also did not say whether the company's "support" involved slowdownbaltimorecounty.com, the website that Dennis said Libit set up for her.
(A tip of the hat to our friends at Inside Charm City for alerting us to the change on the Facebook pages.)
The Curious Case of the Missing Board Members
For the second consecutive month the Baltimore County Revenue Authority has announced it will not hold its regularly scheduled monthly meeting.
This time the cancellation is due to a lack of members being available to attend.
William "Lynnie" Cook, chief executive of the authority, told reporters of the cancellation in a Monday evening e-mail. Cook cited a "lack of a quorum"—meaning at least three of its five volunteer members were unavailable.
The independent quasi-public agency is responsible for managing the county’s five public golf courses, four public parking garages in Towson and several metered street and surface parking lots.
Cook, in his brief e-mail, did not provide details on who was unable to attend and did not respond to a request for additional information.
Board Chairman Donald Hutchinson and members Merreen Kelly and Bonnie Phipps also did not immediately respond to requests for interviews.
Joseph Blair, in an e-mail to a reporter, said he was in Florida "and had planed to attend by phone. However, due to a change in plans, I will be leaving the house I am renting and will be in transit during the meeting."
Leslie Pittler, who has not missed a meeting since joining the board about 12 years ago, said he was planning to attend. He said cancelling a meeting for lack of a quorum is unusual because members can and have participated by phone.
In fact, Blair participated in a meeting earlier this month by phone. Hutchinson has also teleconferenced with the board during meetings.
This is the second regularly scheduled meeting cancelled by the board in as many months. Typically, the board meets on the last Thursday of each month.
In February, the meeting was cancelled without public notice because Hutchinson was unable to attend. He was recovering from a surgical procedure. The meeting was rescheduled for March 10.
The board announced at that meeting that it planned to meet again on March 31—its regular monthly meeting day. None of the members expressed scheduling concerns at the time.
One controversial item on the board's agenda was the "disposition of the Lavender Lot" in Parkville. Business and community leaders have been lobbying the authority and elected official to prevent the sale and development of the lot. The spaces are needed for businesses located along Harford Road near Taylor Avenue.
Revenue Authority reports have portrayed the surface parking meter lot as underutilized and barely able to cover its costs.
It is not clear what the authority was planning to announce at the meeting. The board's agenda notes that a related memo would be distributed at the March 31 meeting.
Community leaders including Ed Pinder, a board member with the Parkville-Carney Business Association, and Ruth Baisden, president of the Greater Parkville Community Council, sent a number of e-mails to area residents and political leaders claiming the board was set to announce the lot’s sale.
"We feel strongly about that the BCRA's actions are not in the best interests of Parkville—and the 11 empty businesses in the same block will be destined to long term blight," Pinder wrote in an e-mail sent to residents and elected officials. "What is particularly frustrating is the lack of accountability for this decision."
Council members Cathy Bevins, a Democrat whose district includes the lot, and David Marks, a Republican who represents a district that borders the lot, said they were planning to attend the meeting this week in response to community concerns.
The announcement of the cancellation comes just two weeks after Patch filed a three-point complaint with the Maryland Attorney General's Open Meetings Compliance Board.
The letter, mailed earlier this month, contends that the board violated the Open Meetings Act by not providing proper public notice of meetings, not providing notice when its February meeting was suddenly cancelled and for improperly closing a part of its January meeting.
The board earlier this month did not admit that it violated the law but it did vote to publicize its meetings on its website and in The Baltimore Sun and to provide public notice of meeting cancellations.