El Mirage Officials Withholding Accident Stats at Intersection with Speed Camera Until After Election, Despite Councilman's Request for Data
El Mirage has installed cameras thorughout the city to catch drivers speeding.
El Mirage's appointed and elected city officials are not releasing accident data for an intersection with a speed camera -- until after the election.
That, despite repeated requests by El Mirage City Councilman Jim McPhetres for those statistics.
As has been the case with the photo enforcement cameras across the state, there has been consternation in this community about the ones officials have peppered throughout the city.
One camera is placed at the intersection of Primrose Street and (Grand Avenue) U.S. 60, a state route that cuts through the city and fast-tracks drivers to popular destinations such as Wickenburg and Las Vegas.
Motorists buzzing along the divided highway with a 45 mph speed limit can get caught on camera for going 11 mph over the posted limit. El Mirage gets to collect the fines, and RedFlex, the private company that installs the cameras, of course, also gets a cut of the booty.
McPhetres wanted to know how many accidents occurred at the intersection before the camera went in, and how many since it's been in place.
After McPhetres request for info, Mook and Vice Mayor David Shapera ask for the same thing. They, along with City Manager Spencer Isom decided that the information would be presented to everyone, at the same time, during their first meeting in September.
The election is on August 28.
Isom tells New Times there's "no story here, unless you manufacture one."
And he adds that they're giving the information to everyone, at the same time "as doing so is the most efficient use of Police personnel's time."
He's right. We're not manufacturing anything. We have the e-mails going back and forth, including the one from the police chief to McPhetres telling him that a police analyst had already prepared a report on the accidents at the intersection.
All he had to do was review it, and hand it over to McPhetres.
But that never happened.
This isn't sensitive information that rises to the level of such secrecy.
Mook and company preached heavily that those cameras would increase public safety. Shapera is running for re-election, along with Mook's other followers -- Councilman Lynn Selby and Councilman Roy Delgado.
McPhetres, not surprisingly, is the odd-man out on the City Council -- asking too many questions and expecting too many answers, as far as his colleagues are concerned. Shapera says McPhetres is wasting thousands of dollars by asking too many questions
(Up until recently, the cameras also captured red-light runners, but the city shut down that program without offering any explanations. More on that later.)
Here's what we know:
On July 20, a Friday, McPhetres asked Police Chief Steve Campbell for those accident statistics at the intersection.
The same day, the chief replied: "Sure. Will Monday or Tuesday be ok?"
McPhetres never got any stats.
On July 24, he repeated his request to Campbell: "Any idea on when I might see the crash figures for this intersection for the period of time the cameras have been installed?"
That same day, Campbell apologized to McPhetres, stating that he "was out of the office most of the day and have not reviewed my analyst's report. I will complete the review in the a.m."
The following day, (July 25), Mayor Mook and Vice Mayor Shapera asked City Manager Spensor Isom for the same accident information -- but told him they wanted it presented at a meeting ... in September.
On July 27, McPhetres again repeated his request.
That same day, Isom e-mailed the chief: "I understand that you have had a request for some of the information from a third member of council. I request you gather all pertinent information for a single presentation to the Council as a whole during the first meeting in September."
A sheepish chief replied to McPhetres on July 31: "Sir, I wish I could give you an absolute answer on that right now, but I can't. At the present time we are still drawing down the data. We have been asked to present the findings to all at the same time once all the data is researched and a report is composed."
Wait a sec ... the chief had already told the councilman eight days earlier that the analyst's report was completed, he just hadn't reviewed it.
Why not turn over that information to McPhetres?
Makes you wonder whether the information would be damaging to Shapera, Selby and Delgado's re-election campaign.
No doubt ... considering that Shapera said in an February 5 e-mail to McPhetres that "only nut jobs are against the cameras as they work and save lives."
With an election looming, if it were true that cameras in El Mirage have done wonders for public safety, why aren't the council members tripping over themselves to let the public know how great the program has been?
Is it because the cameras have only served as a money-making racket for the city?
El Mirage has a long track record of claiming to support transparency yet refusing to answer even basic questions about how the city conduct business.
Consider that when it shut down its red-light-running portion of the camera, leaving the cameras only to catch speeders, City Manager Isom refused to give any straightforward answers about why they made their decision.
Watch a Channel 5 reporter try unsuccessfully to squeeze an answer out of Isom in April.
Isom eventually tells the reporter that El Mirage is a small city, and its own police force is going to keep an eye out for red-light runners. If that were the case, why wouldn't those same cops be able to also keep an eye out for speeders?
Certainly, the cops are capable of multitasking.
As if all that wasn't shady enough, the contract that El Mirage has with RedFlex also raises a few questions.
El Mirage and RedFlex signed a three-year contract in January 2009, with an option to extend the agreement for up to three two-year periods after the contract was up.
On December 29, 2010, more than a year before the contract expired, a RedFlex representative sent an e-mail to the El Mirage Police Department asking for assurances that the program would continue past the initial three-year term.
"Would it be possible to have a letter drafted on official letterhead, indicating that you would like to" extend the contract 24 months, wrote Robert Warner, account director for RedFlex.
The city manager did that in April -- without council approval.
McPhetres questioned Isom's authority to extend the program, saying that the council approved it initially and should be the body reviewing whether to extend the program.
But Isom -- who was handpicked by Mook as city manager -- just dubs himself "project manager" of the camera program and says he signed an agreement with RedFlex. He adds that the new contract saved the city money -- but he doesn't explain where that savings comes from or how it was negotiated.
And, it's at that time that he unilaterally made the decision to end the red light portions of the camera. Again, without any explanation.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.