School districts that enlisted in the stop arm camera helmed by Dallas County Schools are going to find out that trying to collect fines levied under the program are uncollectible.
It’s unlikely they will admit it.
Sharon Dever is caught in the middle of the program run by DCS, which was dissolved by voters in November, and Force Multiplier Solutions, a private company implicated in a federal bribery scandal.
The Austin woman received a $300 citation in the mail from the Dallas County Schools/West Lake Hills School Bus Safety Program in February, claiming a car with her license plate drove past a school bus with a stop arm sign engaged.
The alleged infraction occurred in the Eanes ISD, which in 2015 signed onto the camera program that catches drivers who fail to heed the stop sign that drops down from school buses that are discharging or collecting passengers. The program was enlisted by several Texas school districts.
Under the deal, the school district puts the cameras on buses, and the fine is administered by Dallas County Schools and the school bus program in coordination with the local school district. A local municipality provides the court for citation appeals.
Dever wrote the check, sent it in and thought she was done with it.
In April, she received a letter from the Dissolution Committee for the Former Board of Dallas County School Trustees.
“The Stop Arm Camera Program has been suspended at this time,” said the letter, signed by Alan King, CEO of the dissolution committee. “As a result, no citations are being issued and no payments are being collected.”
But last week, Dever received a collections notice from the city of West Lake Hills.
“THIS IS YOU FINAL NOTICE. FAILURE TO RESPOND TO THIS NOTICE WITHIN TEN DAYS WILL RESULT IN THE INITIATION OF FORMAL COLLECTIONS PROCEEDINGS, INCLUDING A 30% LATE FEE…” the letter stated in bold caps.
In response to an inquiry by the Texas Monitor, DCS dissolution committee general counsel Amanda Davis issued a statement Wednesday, promising action against entities seeking to issue tickets under the program.
The program was halted in November, she said, and “to date, the Committee has not authorized the issuance of any citations nor collection of any citation payments within the State of Texas. To the contrary, the Committee expressly communicated to an unauthorized party via a written directive to immediately cease any and all statewide operations related to the Program. Given that we now know the party has opted to ignore the directive, we will respond accordingly.”
See full statement here.
A representative of West Lake Hills, which provides the municipal court in which disputes over such citations are heard, said the city has halted the program but could not explain why the collections letter went out with the city logo on it.
“West Lake Hills is not going to be participating in that program any more and our law firm has filed what it needs to make that happen,” said the city’s court clerk, Bobby Martinez.
West Lake Hills City Administrator Robert Wood did not respond to an email seeking comment. Eanes ISD spokeswoman Claudia McWhorter did not respond to an email or phone call.
A call to the toll-free number on the collections note goes to the Parish Courts of Jefferson Parish in New Orleans, where Force Multiplier Solutions was launched in 2009.
A customer service rep said that while the program is no longer operative in Dallas, it is running and collecting fines in the rest of Texas, including West Lake Hills.
Dallas County Schools provided school bus services to over a dozen school districts in the Dallas area. In 2012, DCS invested in the stop arm program operated by Force Multiplier Solutions, which placed cameras on the buses to catch the scofflaws.
Several school districts signed on to deals that were promoted as moneymakers by DCS and Force Multiplier. Under the plan, the citations were captured on camera and the license plate holder was mailed a ticket administered through DCS.
With the legal problems faced by both DCS and Force Multiplier, a new company, BusPatrol, began late last year and told districts that it would be managing the project. BusPatrol employs some of the same people and uses some of the same addresses as Force Multiplier.
McWhorter, the Eanes ISD spokeswoman, told The Texas Monitor in January that no one in the district was aware of the indictment of a key player in Force Multiplier Solutions and the implication of DCS executives in a bus camera scam.
Force Multiplier was formally shuttered in January, state records show, a month after federal bribery charges were filed on former employee Slater Swartwood Sr. Swartwood pleaded guilty.
Former Dallas County Schools Superintendent, Rick Sorrells, last month also pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges in connection to the school bus camera program.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].