Thursday, September 6, 2001

Changes are needed
in camera operation

The issue: A San Diego judge has
ruled that a system that Hawaii plans
to use to catch motorists running
red lights, is untrustworthy.

BEFORE signing a contract with a private company to install traffic cameras at traffic intersections on Oahu, the state should review a court case in San Diego. A California judge this week threw out hundreds of traffic tickets after ruling that the photographs were unreliable because of that city's lack of oversight. Changes that probably will be made to comply with the judge's ruling should be incorporated in Hawaii's project to avoid a similar legal battle.

The state transit department has tentatively agreed to contract with Lockheed Martin IMS Corp., to install and operate cameras at 10 Oahu intersections this year to record motorists running red lights, and later up to 12 additional cameras to catch speeders. Lockheed Martin, which recently was acquired by Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc., performs similar services in more than 40 jurisdictions in the United States, Canada and Australia.

However, San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Styn ruled that the city had violated California state law by leaving the operation entirely up to Lockheed. The judge also frowned on the city's system of paying the company $70 of every $271 citation, giving an incentive to Lockheed to catch as many offenders as possible.

Without photographs as evidence, about 250 cases fell apart; a prosecutor asked Styn to dismiss the charges, and the judge obliged. Although the city of San Diego is likely to appeal the ruling, its 19 cameras have been turned off. Even so. experts suggest that a few changes may satisfy the judge's concerns.

For example, Lockheed could be paid a flat fee instead of a commission on the fines that have been assessed. A Lockheed spokesman says such an agreement would be acceptable, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Also, police may have to be trained to oversee the system.

Although the judge's decision was based on California law and sets no legal precedent elsewhere, his rationale can be cited and argued in Hawaii courts. The ruling "sends a strong message that the way in which cities contract for these services needs to be done differently than how it was done in San Diego," Richard Retting of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., told the Union-Tribune.

Hawaii has been negotiating with Lockheed for months and should not back away from a contract because of the San Diego decision. Red-light violations reportedly have declined by more than 60 percent at intersections equipped with cameras in some cities. Cameras also could be useful in the city's attempt to crack down on road racers. The San Diego version just needs some fine tuning.

Applicants flood in
to fill teaching vacancies

The issue: Education department
to fill 437 teacher vacancies with anyone
holding a college bachelor's degree.

The inquiries from prospective public school teachers that have flooded the Department of Education for the last two days appear to undercut, perhaps severely, the contention of the teachers union that Hawaii has a hard time recruiting teachers because of inadequate salaries or uninviting working conditions.

On Monday, a holiday, Superintendent Paul LeMahieu told a news conference called by Rep. Patsy Mink that the public schools needed 437 teachers and would consider anyone with a college bachelor's degree. That caused a deluge of phone calls and walk-ins. No one has kept track of the numbers but a safe guess was that by sundown Wednesday, 1,200 people had inquired. That doesn't count an untold number of callers who gave up when they couldn't get through or after answering machines got overloaded and refused to accept more messages.

By yesterday afternoon, officials at the DOE were not quite so expansive as their boss. Greg Knudsen, the department's spokesman, said: "If we have to, we can put in people who are not teacher trained." They would be hired as instructors, at a lower salary than that of a qualified teacher, and would be expected to complete training as teachers within three years.

As a rough estimate, Knudsen said about 125 of the openings were in Leeward Oahu, 115 on the Big Island, 70 in the combined district of Maui, Molokai and Lanai, 30 in Honolulu and the rest scattered about. A third to half called for teachers trained in special education, meaning teachers qualified to instruct those with physical or mental handicaps or with learning disabilities.

This outpouring of interest, even eagerness, to teach in Hawaii should be heartening to the schoolchildren, their parents, the Board of Education and even to Governor Cayetano, who has argued that the contract offered to the teachers after their strike this spring would make teachers' salaries here competitive with those on the mainland. A dispute over the contract is currently before a mediation board.

For the Hawaii State Teachers Association, however, the steady stream of applicants for teaching jobs has diluted their argument that salaries and benefits needed to be improved so that more teachers would apply for jobs here or, more important, would stay here to teach and not move to the mainland. It looks like there are plenty of potential teachers to take the places of those who don't want to teach here.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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