Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column
Let's take a moment to return to the days of speed cameras. Two reasons:
1. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's recent statement -- that he didn't want Albany to eliminate the measure that permits use of the cameras in Nassau and Suffolk -- implies the cameras may have a second life. And last week, when lawmakers approved the new state budget, the provision Mangano objected to did not survive. We have no reason to suspect the cameras will be making a return appearance anytime soon. But the legislature's action means the law that would make that possible remains in place.
2. A bundle of public documents -- emails and reports related to the program requested under the Freedom of Information Law -- arrived on my desk recently. They touch on a range of topics, from labor costs for time spent reviewing the camera images to last-minute installation of warning signs on the eve of the program's launch. Included are statements that can be read as lending support to speed camera critics who contend the program was used to generate revenue rather than achieve school traffic safety.
An Aug. 4 email from an official with the county's Traffic and Parking Violations Agency assessed the first week of the cameras and put them "in perspective":
"The cameras are averaging approximately 500 violations per day per camera," wrote David Rich, the agency's deputy executive director. "Keep in mind this is summer session -- reduced operating hours of schools and volume of traffic. To try and put that in perspective -- the Red Light camera averages approximately 9 events per day per camera which yields approximately six violations per day per camera."
Based on those numbers, our calculation indicates the average speed camera revenue was expected to come in at a level more than 80 times the average for red light cameras. And a report on the summer camera operation, which was suspended after three weeks, includes tables listing "revenue potential" in scenarios labeled "optimistic," "realistic" and "pessimistic." It concluded with a recommendation: "Slow rollout for September 2014 -- light up half the fixed sites -- full day operation," then mentioned the benefits: "Folks do not know where the sites are -- helps to keep program optimized."
We asked about "optimized" -- specifically, what measure of effectiveness was used to determine whether the program was operating optimally.
The county, for the first time since the speed camera program began, did not respond to our questions.
Other documents touched on questions raised during the program's operation:
Why did speed cameras arrive out of nowhere on a Friday in midsummer? Emails indicate the program began as soon as it could.
Shortly after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the bill into law on June 25, an email from Rich to three members of Mangano's staff ended this way: "The law takes effect in 30 days."
The cameras went into action on Friday, July 25, the first day possible.
And a series of emails indicate county seals were removed from the exterior of mobile camera vans shortly after the program was relaunched in September. The correspondence, dated Sept. 19, does not mention who ordered the removal.
Rich: "Do you know if any of the seals or markings were removed from the speed vans? ATS representatives that were here thought maybe some of the markings were removed." ATS stands for American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona company that won the county's speed camera contract.
Public Works Department staffer: "We had direction to remove the seals."
Rich: "Was it all vans?"
Second Public Works staffer: "Yes, all have been removed."
We asked why the seals were removed, and at whose direction. The county did not respond.
-- JUDY CARTWRIGHT
Drinking fountains at Plainview-Old Bethpage Community Park were expected to be reinstalled in time for last year's tennis season. They weren't.
The town says the wait shouldn't be too much longer.
Fountains were removed when the park launched improvements several years ago. We reported on their absence in March 2014 after Jay Becker of Syosset said he and other tennis enthusiasts relied on the fountains, especially in hot weather. The Town of Oyster Bay told us new fountains were expected to be installed soon, once projects that involved concrete pouring and piping replacement were completed.
In January, Becker told us the fountains had not arrived.
Town spokeswoman Marta Kane explained the delay in an email: "Because of the extensive repairs that were needed throughout the park, as well as near and around those specific fountains, the town had to replace underground piping and rerun water lines to that location, which took more time than anticipated."
As for a new target date: "Now that the remaining work is complete, we certainly expect to be able to install them once the winter weather breaks," she said.
-- MICHAEL R. EBERT