Firm that recommended extending Suffolk red-light camera program called in to question

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With the fate of Suffolk's red-light program to be decided Wednesday, there are new questions about the independent engineering firm the county hired to study the program and its findings.

The debate of whether the red-light program is a safety initiative or a money grab has raged on since the cameras were installed in 2010. To get some answers, the county Legislature voted in 2017 to hire an independent engineering firm to study the program and issue a recommendation on how to move forward.

In March of last year, LK McLean Associates was hired to do the study at a cost of nearly $250,000. This summer, McLean released the results: Accidents at red-light intersections were up 42%, rear-end collisions at those same spots went up 46%, while fatalities went down a small amount and serious injuries dropped 11%.

Despite an increase in crashes, McLean still recommended keeping the cameras, citing the "reduction in crashes resulting in injury or fatality."

Fort Salonga Legislator Rob Trotta, an outspoken critic of the red-light cameras, says he believes this recommendation was only going to go one way, regardless of the statistics.

"It's pay to play, follow the money. It's about the money," says Trotta.

Gil Anderson, who was the commissioner of the Department of Public Works when the county executed its contract with McLean in March 2018, went on to work for the firm just eight months later. The company even touted his arrival on its website.

MORE: Committee vote sends red-light camera proposal to full Suffolk Legislature | 'Red-light Robin Hood' faces felony charges 

Stephen Ruth, the so-called Red Light Robin Hood convicted of vandalizing red-light cameras in 2016, says his ears perked up last week when Deputy Presiding Officer Rob Calarco announced his wife works for the firm as a part-time employee, saying, "She's been there for several years now. But she has also had absolutely nothing do with this report."

"It was skewed. And actually, the findings of the study actually contradict the recommendations of the study," says Ruth.

Since 2013, McLean's former CEO Gene Daly donated $19,200 to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's campaign. After Daly retired in 2018, his successor Ray DiBiase contributed an additional $2,250 to the county executive.

DiBiase responded, saying, "The recommendations made in the study are based entirely on the objective data collected and analyzed in the study." He also says the company complies with all governmental conflict of interest policies and campaign finance laws.

Bellone has been a frequent supporter of the cameras, and as the county faces a significant budget deficit, it is partially offset each year by the more than $20 million in revenue brought in by the cameras.

"You look at the report, and it does look like there was a predetermined outcome, which is extend the program for five years ... but no real in-depth analysis, no evaluation of the $26 million or $27 million in fees," says municipal law expert Paul Sabatino, who formerly served as counsel to the Suffolk Legislature and deputy county executive.

Bellone spokesperson Jason Elan says, "After spending weeks touting the findings of this report, the Legislature's Minority Caucus is now criticizing it in order to score cheap political points at the expense of public safety. We agree with AAA and other national safety studies that show red light camera programs are an effective tool to reduce crashes and save lives. And while campaign contributions do not influence public policy, it is worth pointing out that LKMA employees have contributed thousands of dollars to Republicans and the so-called Suffolk Conservatives."

But Trotta, Ruth, Sabatino and many Suffolk residents remained skeptical just hours ahead of the county Legislature's vote on whether to extend the red-light camera program Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.

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