With traffic camera contract expiring, Lynnwood council debate continues

LYNNWOOD — Lynnwood’s traffic-enforcement camera contract expires in a few weeks, but the talks about renewal might be on hold.

City Council members must decide if they want to vote on the contract renewal this month or wait until a lawyer finishes an outside investigation into the police department’s relationship with the vendor.

The topic is slated for discussion at a council workgroup Monday night.

In August, Mayor Don Gough hired attorney Patricia Eakes to investigate whether two Lynnwood police officers demonstrated conflicts of interest in their communications with American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona company that operates the city’s traffic-enforcement cameras.

The investigation’s cost was first estimated at $10,000. That recently was adjusted to $15,000.

The decision to hire the lawyer came days after The Herald reported that Deputy Police Chief Karen Manser asked a camera-company official about job prospects as she opened negotiations to renew the contract.

The story also reported that traffic unit Sgt. Wayne “Kawika” Davis offered to help the company market their cameras in other cities and states. He also offered to help lobby against proposed legislation that sought to minimize how much money cities could charge for traffic-camera violations.

Eakes’ investigation is expected to wrap up by Oct. 31, according to a memo posted on the city’s website. The memo is unsigned, but the listed contacts are the mayor and City Attorney Rosemary Larson.

Council members can consider the new contract amendments this month or temporarily extend the decision until they learn the results of the investigation, the memo says. Both the mayor and Police Chief Steve Jensen support an extension. Such an agreement already has been drawn up and approved by American Traffic Solutions.

The memo also states that anyone who has been involved with or interviewed in the investigation should not attend the workgroup discussion. It says their presence and participation would be improper and inappropriate.

The city’s camera program has long been a source of controversy. Jensen in August acknowledged that Lynnwood is dependent on the millions of dollars the cameras bring in, and that losing the ticket revenue could mean additional layoffs. The city repeatedly has vouched for the cameras as a safety venture, but has yet to provide reliable data that the cameras are reducing crashes or improving safety.

The most important piece of the new contract likely will be an escape clause sought by city officials. The clause would allow Lynnwood to get out of the contract if a new state law or court ruling makes the cameras illegal or reduces camera revenues enough to make the program costly rather than lucrative.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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