Since when does St. Petersburg City Hall abdicate its responsibility to Miami? That's the option in the offing today as Mayor Bill Foster, seeking to outmaneuver the Florida Legislature's threat to outlaw red light cameras, is pushing for quick approval of a no-bid $8.8 million contract with a vendor. The City Council should be circumspect. Such a controversial program should be thoroughly vetted and negotiated by public servants working in the best interests of St. Petersburg residents, not a South Florida city.
Foster wants to use a process allowed under state law known as "piggybacking" to award the contract to American Traffic Solutions of Scottsdale, Ariz. The company runs Miami's red light camera program, and Foster would sign a contract that tweaks the Miami agreement. Foster opted for this route only after city staff had looked at red light camera contracts that ATS and a competitor have in six Florida cities.
But City Hall isn't just buying new cars or office supplies — the type of commodities that lend themselves reasonably to piggybacked contracts. Red light programs have more variables and involve the enforcement of traffic law, including $158 tickets. The contract Foster proposes, for example, lets ATS help pick 20 intersections for the cameras. That suggests profit, not public safety, could take priority.
Forgoing competitive bidding to get ahead of legislation is also shortsighted. What's most important is that if St. Petersburg installs red light cameras it does so at the right price and in the right places to best impact public safety, not to outsmart Tallahassee or pad a company's bottom line. Proceed with caution.