Originally published on January 26, 2010 on Nola.com.
Councilman Chris Roberts wants to end Jefferson Parish’s controversial stop-light camera program after learning that the contractor plans to pay a politically connected consultant part of the $20 million so far collected in fines.
Redflex Traffic Systems of Phoenix, Ariz., arranged to pay Bryan Wagner, a former New Orleans City Council member, 3.2 percent of the cash it expects to make off fines from drivers at 11 intersections adorned with cameras, according to a Redflex letter to parish attorney Tom Wilkinson.
Roberts said he will ask his colleagues Wednesday to suspend the program, which has been in place since October 2007 and has collected more than $19.7 million in fines.
“I think it’s necessary for the administration to take a step back, do some inquiring and determine who can get paid from this,” Roberts said Monday. “As a citizen, I think people would have a right to be upset about these payments.”
Roberts said he began questioning Redflex last fall after hearing speculation that some individuals were getting a cut of the program’s proceeds. The company’s slow response to his requests for information and the fact that its attorneys became involved implies that Redflex did not plan to disclose the payment arrangements, Roberts said.
“If those things were disclosed to us up front,” Roberts said, “I would not have been inclined to move forward” with the camera program.
Redflex’s attorney Andrejs Bunkse wrote to Wilkinson that the company did not have to disclose its arrangement with Wagner but did so to be responsive. He was responding to a request from Wilkinson, after Roberts prodded the parish attorney to get involved.
Redflex spokeswoman Cristina Weekes said Tuesday that Wagner was an independent sales consultant who earned a commission by selling the camera program to Jefferson Parish.
“Sales consultants work in many industries and in many capacities,” Weekes said. “He’s an independent contractor and we fully disclosed it” during negotiations with Jefferson officials in 2007.
Under the camera program, drivers caught running stoplights must pay $110 for each offense. Redflex’s contract with the parish states the company is to receive $48.50 from each of the first 100 tickets issued monthly by each camera at each intersection; $22.50 for each of the next 50 tickets; and $13.50 from every ticket after that. The rest of the money is split among various parish government agencies.
But all the revenue, including Redflex’s share, is tied up in escrow after several drivers challenged the parish in court over the cameras.
Bunkse said the company had agreed to pay the Baton Rouge consulting group Courson Nickel $45,000 to lobby the Legislature and to pay Wagner an annual percentage of the company’s earning from the Jefferson contract.
The letter also stated that Redflex intends to keep its arrangements with Wagner and Courson Nickel in place this year.
In December 2006, the council picked Redflex over another Arizona company, American Traffic Solutions, to run the camera program. Before the deal, Redflex hired Wagner, who brought in his associate, Julie Murphy, who is married to 24th Judicial District Judge Robert Murphy. Julie Murphy and Wagner also work together as insurance brokers for Bryan Wagner Insurance.
At the time, Julie Murphy said she represented Redflex in discussions with Parish Council members John Young, Byron Lee, Tom Capella and Jennifer Sneed. Sneed resigned in 2008.
Bunkse’s letter is the first public disclosure of the fee arrangement between Redflex and its lobbyists.
Wagner said Monday he has always been up front about his working relationship with Redflex in Louisiana.
“What most people want to know is that there’s someone that can take of any problems they have,” he said. “And we basically do that.”
He also said that it’s unlikely he would receive anywhere near 3.2 percent of the fine revenue over the course of the contract. He said he collects half that percentage, with Murphy receiving the rest.
“I certainly don’t think … that I’ve been overly compensated,” Wagner said.
Young, who championed the camera program on the council, said Monday that Murphy approached him two years ago as a lobbyist for Redflex. He said he didn’t know that Murphy and Wagner were being paid a percentage of the money collected.
“Obviously the program is working,” Young said. “But if there’s been some impropriety, I certainly would support the full suspension of the program.”