Predicting Council “whitewash” on speed cameras, Stokes touches a nerve

"Certain parties in the City Council will take this investigation and bury the real facts," Stokes says of the speed camera scandal

carl stokes1

Councilman Carl Stokes (12th District) chairing his Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

Speaking on WEAA 88.9 FM yesterday, City Councilman Carl Stokes unleashed a fusillade of accusations about his fellow Council members, saying he feared they would engage in a “coverup” of the burgeoning speed camera scandal.

“I am concerned about a whitewash. I am concerned that certain parties in the City Council will take this investigation and bury the real facts. . . I am concerned that they are trying to bury this,” Stokes said, speaking on the Marc Steiner Show.

Taking umbrage, Councilmen Nick Mosby and James B. Kraft rose at last night’s City Council meeting to object to Stokes’ harsh words.

Beginning his remarks by referencing the deadly violence in the city, in particular the 51-year-old woman stabbed to death in Highlandtown last week, Kraft said, “We’ve got to get control of this city. . . We’ve got to get people to have trust in their city government.

“It does not help us when members of this body go on the radio and allege that members of this body are corrupt, not doing their duty or have knowledge they aren’t sharing,” Kraft added.

Mosby also complained about Stokes’ radio comments and argued that the city was doing a better job of increasing transparency (“we continue to drive toward that”).

“This body will get to the bottom of the answers,” said Mosby. He told The Brew after the meeting that Stokes was “way out of line.”

“Sick of Corrupt Lying”

But Stokes expressed deep skepticism that City Hall would ever uncover the full story, citing what happened around speed cameras at the previous Council meeting.

Stokes could not get the super-majority he needed – 12 votes – to suspend the Council’s rules and immediately have the investigation conducted by his Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee. Instead by a vote of 8-7, they assigned the task to Kraft’s Judiciary  and Legislative Investigations Committee.

“I know better – I sat there last Monday night,” Stoles said bitterly at the start of his most passionate comment on the hour-long radio show, which also featured Mosby and Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.
STOKES: “I think something else is going on here. I think there is a possibility of criminal action.”

Stokes appeared irritated when Mosby suggested that the process underway was transparent. But what really set him off was when Clarke had cautioned him to temper his remarks about Council colleagues.

“At this particular moment in history, I think it’s very important for us in the City Council to close ranks and stand together to get for our citizens what they deserve,” Clarke said. “So I hear what you’re saying, Carl, but I don’t think it’s the way to start a discussion.”

His reply:

“I sat there last Monday night. I know better. I know it’s tough to say people are liars. It’s tough to say people are corrupt and I know you hate the sound of it – I know you do – but I’m sick of corrupt, lying sons of guns doing this to the citizens of the city. I’m sick of neighborhoods that you represent, that I represent, that Nick represents, getting flipped off . . . getting screwed around by people who don’t care.

“I know it’s tough to say somebody lied, when they may be sitting next to you on the City Council floor. I understand that. But that’s how we all go down. That’s how you lose a nation, a city or a state. I know I’m being dramatic, but, dammit, people are sick of this.”

Angry Constituents

The flaring emotions are a sign that the Council is feeling heat that citizens are directing not just at the administration of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, but at them.

“I go to barbershops, hair salons, the A&P. . . churches, synagogues, temples we go to these places they’re black people, they’re white people, they’re Latino people, that are just grabbing me,” Stokes said.

“I can’t eat breakfast in the morning without someone coming over to the table talking about what’s going on with the cameras, and not just the cameras,” he continued, going on to mention water bills and tax breaks

“It’s just the lack of transparency in city government.”

All three Council members agreed that citizens are incensed about the issue and that they all know people who have received speed camera tickets and were upset about it.

“Me too, I’m one of them,” said Clarke.

“I paid six,” added Stokes.

Is Nobody to Blame?

Heat has also been coming from the media, yesterday morning represented by Steiner. The issue of blame – and whether and how to assess it on city officials – came up repeatedly on the show.

“Now it’s coming to the forefront,” Mosby said, “I  think it’s great we’ll have the details, we’ll know the details, the citizens will know that at the end of the day that folks are fighting for transparency.”

“Let’s just talk about what we need,” Clarke said. “Let’s depersonalize this.”

Steiner pressed on.

“It has to go to somebody’s doorstep,” the radio host said. (“Right now, it’s on ours, according to our colleague Councilman Stokes,” Clarke said drily, sotto voce.)

“Someone has to take responsibility that $2.8 million left the city budget to pay companies that didn’t do an effective job, that people got cheated out of a lot of money, perhaps $2 million more, for [speeding] tickets they didn’t really do,” Steiner continued.

“Doesn’t this also go to issue of why the Council couldn’t come together to figure out how to create an audit system for this city that might be transparent, that could tell us where our money is going?” Steiner asked.

The question sent Mosby onto the subject of audits. “A financial audit of DOT might not have turned up these problems, but a performance audit would have,” he pointed out.

Stokes then brought the discussion back to the speeding camera issue.

“The red light cameras are, were, a scam. Everybody should get their money back, even if there were a legitimate ticket,” he said.

“I don’t even know if they were inaccurate as a matter of calibration or whether someone intentionally just started stealing from citizens,” Stokes said. “I think something else is going on here. I think there is a possibility of criminal action. I didn’t want to go there but certainly people have made statements when they had in their hands the truth – that’s a cover-up.”

A Caller’s Last Words

Stokes said at the end of the show, “I hope I didn’t impugn anyone,” but a caller named “Leo” who had watched last week’s Council vote, said he was quite ready to impugn the integrity of Council members.

“The Council [is] divided along racial lines. The only white person who supported Carl Stokes was Mary Pat Clarke,” Leo said.

“They’re circling the wagons. . . and they’re trying to block progress and justice. . . It is a disgrace. The buck stops with the mayor and, of course, Governor Martin O’Malley has her back.”

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  • bmorepanic

    I still love this never ending story. Hopefully, someone will find out what actually happened some day. Great reporting!

  • Mike K

    Seems like some members of the council need to learn the difference between translucent, transparent, and utterly opaque.

  • Matthew Riesner

    Thank you Carl Stoke for being the only council person willing to question the motives of the other council members and mayor in Baltimore’s one sided political machine.

  • Exoduster

    I’d love to know which of the former deputies leaked the “unauthorized” report. That would make for an interesting conversation at Werners.

  • Rodman

    Becoming a big fan of Stokes.

  • krisnorthrup

    THANK YOU Carl Stokes for telling it like it is. I’m sick of the corruption that goes on in this city and the uncaring attitude of Blake.

  • asteroid_B612

    “lies” “cover-up” “intentionally …stealing” “something else is going on here” ‘whitewash” “bury the facts” “corrupt, lying” — looks like someone is running for mayor.

    While I agree the speed camera stuff has been a travesty (just like the BGF taking control of the prisons; the inept and inaccurate water billing; the failure to effectively address widespread and chronic police corruption; the millions the City owes the Feds for improperly spent homeless grants; the Baltimore Behavioral Health fiasco that severely damaged the Hollins Market neighborhood; the Harbor Point corporate giveaways; the Biotech Park that isn’t (and the other perks for non-profits that have cost us billions); the upcoming Red Line debacle; the state healthcare website rollout fiasco; anything having to do with the City school system; etc.), this sort of incompetence is basically what I’ve come to expect from our local and state governments.

    The reason we have the appalling lack of transparency is to protect the bureaucrats, the government employees, and the politicians. Does anyone really expect things to change here in the Free State?

    • River Mud

      I don’t think the rank and file government employees have much stake in it. Many of them work in depressing, demoralizing work environments where speaking up is punished and mediocrity and silence are rewarded. I see the problem at the level of Agency directors – they are trying to protect their political power and their budgets. They’ll trade the security of either (power or money) with elected officials.

      • asteroid_B612

        @Barnadine & River Mud: the Baltimore City Police Department has 2,500 “employees” who can lock you up and cause you to spend an unpleasant night in Central Booking merely for being rude. They will call it disorderly conduct or failure to obey a lawful order of a police officer. The charges will be found to be insufficient by the States Attorneys Office or the court commissioner, and you will be released the next day. (Try and film an arrest on your cell phone and see what happens.)

        Why do you think that tens of thousands of persons who were arrested under (former) Mayor O’Malley’s zero tolerance program were released without charges? The police “employees” were arresting over 100,000 citizens every year, many for nothing or for exercising their constitutional rights to free speech or for engaging in other constitutionally protected activity.. If you filed a complaint against a police officer for misconduct or unlawful arrest, you would be told years later that any investigation result was “confidential” because it was “job-related” and they were protected by The Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill or Rights. Even if the police investigation found wrongdoing, the officer would not be punished because of the dysfunctional police disciplinary process. You would never know this, of course, because everything is confidential. Try and get copies of all of the “confidential employee” disciplinary actions taken against Officer Gahiji Tshamba after he shot the guy in cold blood outside of the Eden Lounge.

        The City Paper had an interesting story on what the State legislature’s reaction was to prison guard “employees” inflicting retaliatory beatings on prisoners in Hagerstown: they passed a law to make it more difficult to fire them:

        I guess my point is that government employees can do a lot more damage tan can employees of Rite Aid or Hip Hop Chicken o M & T Bank. Shouldn’t they be held to a higher standard? TRANSPARENCY IN ALL THINGS GOVERNMENT IS A GOOD THING.

        • Barnadine_the_Pirate

          You get what you pay for.

        • River Mud

          “Unpleasant night” in lockup? Hell, people have been murdered in overnight lockup – people who the police had no intention of charging with a crime. I’m polite as pie when it comes to the boys in blue. I’m all for transparency….but once we get it, where in the world do we go from there? Do we really want to know how bad it truly is? Can we fix it if we find out?

        • ushanellore

          And the citizens are at the mercy of these fools. Try calling Medicare or SS–it’s a nightmare. You can almost imagine the customer service rep you’ve managed to reach after hours of ugly music, polishing his or her nails while listening to his /her i pod even as you are desperately trying to find the meaning of some idiotic govt. mandate you are supposed to follow but you don’t fully understand it in all its convoluted glory. Might as well talk to your own mirror about it.

    • Barnadine_the_Pirate

      This has little to do with protecting city employees; do you doubt for a moment that the mayor and/or council would hesitate to throw some civil servant under a bus to protect themselves on one of these issues?
      I think — and I say this as a pretty consistent Democrat — the problem is with one-party rule. For a lot of reason, the Republican Party is a nonexistent farce in Baltimore City, but we need a second party to keep the Dems honest (and the Dems to keep the second party honest).

      • Dbaums


      • ushanellore

        We’ve got two party rule at the federal level and both parties are obstructionist, obstinate, arrogant and incompetent. The republic is broken and both parties are complicit.

        • Barnadine_the_Pirate

          Federal government can afford to be broken. Local government has to actually respond to voters. And if you think the federal government is broken now, imagine what it would be like if it was entirely Republican for a few decades. (Or Democrat, for that matter).

  • Eric_in_Baltimore

    Kind of rich coming from a councilman who lied about having graduated from college when he ran for Mayor.

    • ushanellore

      Sometimes wishful thinking has a way of morphing into truth. Specially in the minds of politicians. It is known as a little white prevarication. I think the man should wear his high school diploma around his neck with pride. Or did he drop out and get his GED and lied about that too?

  • Lizzie 58

    We all know that hearing was kept with Kraft because he would carry the Mayor’s water during the hearing. Rest assured that no one in the Mayor’s Office or at Department of Transportation will be held responsible for anything.
    They will say that a few mistakes were made, but they are so much wiser now.

    Even the brutal murder last week of one of his constituents in her own home by a a thug teenager who had robbed her six months earlier is not enough for Jim Kraft to part ways with the Mayor.

    • GXWalsh

      I’m pretty sure that the Mayor and Kraft are not chummy. He’s gone to bat for a number of issues that the mayor likes to drop on E Baltimore.

      • Lizzie 58

        Such as? They are in sync on anything that involves real money or real power. For example Harborpoint hundred million dollar TIF; writing checks to property owners who underpaid their real property taxes due to faulty historic tax credit calculations; pushing panhandlers and the homeless off City streets; and the continuing and never ending what to do about traffic on Boston Street. Yes, Kraft complains when he does get everything or every dollar he wants. He disagreed with the Mayor about limiting TicketMaster processing fees. It ain’t much.

        They kept the speed camera investigation in Kraft’s Committee to stop Carl Stokes–the Mayor’s nemesis–from having a field day.

  • Carol Ott

    You know, for once I have to hand it to Carl Stokes. Either way, he’s going to come out far ahead of the SRB apologists — the smarter city council members should start distancing themselves from the “Yes, Madam Mayor, anything you say, Madam Mayor” crowd ASAP and start raising some hell.

  • River Mud

    This is so confounding and depressing that I have no real comment to offer. Guess I’ll go kick rocks.

  • BaltimoreDave

    Go Carl. Go! I too have a problem with a Mayor who refuses to be transparent. Her actions speak louder than her words.

  • Michael_J_Walsh

    Has anyone compared the death by speeding car rate before, during, and after the end of speed cameras?

    • ushanellore

      This is an excellent question and if studies consistently show that death rates and accidents have not gone down with speed cameras, then investment in more and more of these is a waste and existing ones should be dismantled even if money has been spent on these.

      • Matthew Riesner

        If they are that worried about people’s lives and not revenue, maybe investing in more trafffic calming measures and traffic engineering rather than placing cameras around town. A road can regulate itself, by properly timed lights that encourage following the speed limits, narrowing lanes (to give the illusion that you cannot drive fast in an area), bumping out curbs to slow down cars, adding speed strips, subtle speed humps, dedicated right-of-ways for pedestrians, pedestrian islands, turn lanes that give pedestrians their own cycle, reducing the number of lanes, backed in parking, etc.

        • ushanellore

          Thank you. Excellent. Why won’t they do it? All your suggestions make common sense. Common sense is anathema to politicians. Your solutions would cost money and would not bring in revenue. We are the subjects of a kingdom of kleptocrats.

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