POSTED ON JANUARY 16, 2008:
Somebody Should Be Cited
Safety or politics first? Councilor calls Mayor's attitude toward e-tickets "reckless"
After months of impassioned appeals on the part of a certain city councilor, it looks like the Tulsa Police Department will finally upgrade to an electronic citation system.
Oh, wait--no. No, they're not.
Wait! Yes they are.
Whoops. Nope. They're not.
Ok, now... Eh, Nevermind. Answer's still "no."
Wait? Is it..? Ok, it's on again.
Or, at least, the City Council unanimously voted last week to shop around for such a system, after a rollercoaster ride of false starts, phantom bid requesters and cancellers, and rounds of "he said, she said."
"This is politics with people's lives," said Councilor John Eagleton early last week upon learning that Mayor Kathy Taylor had, he'd heard, cancelled the request for bids for the system.
"People are out there crashing and dying, and she's playing politics," he added.
"Not even looking at bids strikes me as reckless," Eagleton continued.
Taylor's initial response, though, was that she didn't know who had issued the RFB in the first place, nor who had cancelled it.
Soon after, Police Chief Ron Palmer told UTW that he was the one responsible for the cancelled bid request.
"As police chief, any criticism for canceling it should be of me," he said.
Eagleton has been crusading for an electronic ticketing system since last May, arguing that it will enable police to issue more tickets in less time, and more efficiently at that, since illegible handwriting and lost carbon copies would no longer result in one out of every four tickets getting issued for naught.
As a result, Tulsa's streets would be safer, and the system would virtually pay for itself by streamlining police man-hours and by the revenue expected from the increased citation volume.
Officer Will Dalsing of TPD's Crime Analysis, Planning, Evaluation and Research section estimated that the entire system would cost about $2.3 million to equip 500 officers with the electronic devices at a cost of about $4,500 apiece, along with development, infrastructure, hardware and software costs.
The system would be implemented in four phases, though, he explained, both to UTW and to the City Council at various times.
The start-up phase would cost anywhere from $300,000 to $400,000, to equip 50 officers.
Eagleton often underscored that the costs of each phase would be covered by the increased fine revenue from the preceding phase.
Apart from some initial controversy over the apparent suggestion of traffic fines as a revenue source, all concerned, including the Mayor, agreed that it was a worthwhile endeavor.
But, Eagleton frequently vented his frustration at the slow going of getting the system in place.
"I don't want kind words and a pat on the back--I want to see this happen," he told UTW in June.
"This was high and center, but then they just said, 'Ok, we'll get around to it,'" he added.
The project somehow returned "high and center" between then and late December, though, and unbeknownst to the Mayor.
As she later recounted to UTW, she read a Dec. 31st article in the local daily paper stating that the e-ticket system would commence early this year.
"I was surprised when I read in the newspaper that the program would come in by Feb. 1," she said.
"I didn't even know the bid request was out," Taylor added.
So, she called a meeting that Friday between herself, the police chief, the city finance director and a few others, at which she learned that an RFB had been issued on Dec. 29.
By whom, though, was unclear.
Soon after, word reached Eagleton that the Mayor had ordered the bid request cancelled.
He speculated that her decision was politically motivated.
The following Tuesday morning, Palmer spoke at a City Council committee meeting, apprising councilors that the bids for the system were due by Feb. 6.
When word got out afterwards that the RFB had, in fact, been canceled, Taylor said she didn't know who had canceled it.
Eagleton, though, later commented that Palmer's statements at the committee meeting were "irreconcilably inconsistent" with what he knew, and with what he said members of Taylor's administration who were present, including Palmer, knew, which was that the bid request had already been cancelled the day before.
Palmer later explained to UTW, though, that, following his meeting with the Mayor, "I told my people to have a discussion with finance department, and tell them not to go forward with this any farther until we've had a chance to study it."
"Businesses go through a lot of work to make bids, which we don't want them to go through if we're not ready to move forward with this," he added.
By Monday, they'd taken his direction to mean they should pull back the bid request, he explained, but the police chief hadn't expected it to happen so quickly, hence his comments the next day to the councilors.
Naturally, the Mayor denied any political motivation for the cancellation of the bid request.
"I have a lot of respect for Councilor Eagleton and his ideas, but I didn't know they sent out a bid request, or when," she said.
"Just because one project has a particularly passionate proponent, that doesn't mean it's the most important. This may be the most important, but that analysis hasn't been done," she added.
Taylor noted that the e-ticket program is not part of the Police Department's capital improvement plan.
Palmer said the department's top priorities for technological improvement are a com-stat computer mapping project, which will cost between $900,000 and $1 million, and installing digital cameras on patrol cars, at an estimated cost of $2.75 million.
He added, though, "The e-ticketing project has merit, and I applaud the Council for moving along."
Meanwhile, though, the Mayor said she hopes to get to the bottom of how the bid request was issued without her approval.
"Whether it was the craziness with the ice storm, the passion for the project, or a flawed system, this project didn't go through the process correctly," she said.
She said, however, that the City Council has the authority to approve the expenditure for the project, but it would also have to decide what project to drop.
The Council exercised some of that authority last Thursday night when it unanimously voted to ask the Mayor to reissue the bid request.
"We're not committing to buy any device or to give the contract to any vendor," said Eagleton.
He said he just wanted to see "what the market will bear so we can make an intelligent business decision in the near future."
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