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Nassau's red-light, speed camera vendor hires local company to lobby for Suffolk contracts

Speed cameras in front of the Dutch Broadway

Speed cameras in front of the Dutch Broadway School in Elmont on Aug. 31, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

The company that operates Nassau's red light and school-zone speed cameras has hired a politically connected local company to lobby for Suffolk County's camera contracts.

Marc Alessi, a former state assemblyman and Brookhaven Democratic chairman, met with Suffolk lawmakers on behalf of American Traffic Solutions this month, lawmakers and the traffic company said.

The pitch, according to five county lawmakers who heard it: Nassau's rocky rollout of the speed cameras wasn't the company's fault.

"He wanted to tell us it was the implementation, not the equipment" in Nassau, said Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Bohemia).

Alessi is of counsel to Jaspan Schlesinger LLP law firm of Garden City and to lobbying firm Shelter Rock Strategies. Steven Schlesinger, attorney for the Nassau County Democratic Party, is managing partner of both firms. Officials of American Traffic Solutions, of Tempe, Arizona, the largest provider of traffic cameras in the nation, said it has a contract with Shelter Rock Strategies.

Alessi did not return repeated calls for comment last week.

County records show he did not file as a lobbyist with Suffolk County until Tuesday afternoon, after he had begun working in Suffolk on behalf of American Traffic Solutions. County law says lobbyists must file within 15 days of their retention as lobbyists.

Company officials say no one with their firm was present at the meetings in Suffolk, and that the company's representatives and lobbyists in Suffolk comply with all lobbying regulations.

Suffolk is seeking a vendor for its school-zone speed camera program, which it plans to begin some time next school year. Nassau's speed camera program, which began with a pilot in July, has sparked numerous complaints about poor signage and cameras that initially issued tickets when student activities weren't going on. Tickets and fees amount to $80 for each infraction.

Public officials in both counties say red light and speed camera programs are aimed primarily at boosting public safety.

But the cameras also have generated millions of dollars from tickets and fees, both for the counties and the private vendors that operate the cameras.

Suffolk County paid red light camera vendor Xerox State and Local Solutions, of Norwalk, Connecticut, a total of $17.15 million from 2010 to 2013, according to annual reports the county filed with the state. Nassau paid American Traffic Solutions $21.25 million for the red light cameras from 2009 through 2012. Nassau has not submitted its 2013 red light camera report or released data on the performance or cost of its speed camera program.

Charles Territo, a senior vice president for American Traffic Solutions, declined to address specific problems in Nassau. But he said it "had nothing to do with technology. They [problems] were operational in nature. Those issues have been resolved and the program in Nassau County is running exactly the way it was designed."

Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, said of the company's pitch in Suffolk: "What would you expect them to tell potential clients? The administration is not going to split hairs over whose fault it is that equipment issued violations during nonschool hours that resulted in County Executive Mangano granting amnesty."

Mangano dismissed $2.4 million in tickets in August after residents complained about malfunctioning cameras and poor signage. Mangano said cameras at five locations malfunctioned, ticketing on days when school was not in session, while a sixth location went online prematurely.

The vendors operate the cameras and paid to install them.

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