The dean of the City Council and chairman of its powerful Finance Committee, Burke is a decadeslong friend and political ally of one of American Traffic Solutions' subcontractors at that time, Tom Donovan. Donovan -- chairman of the advisory board for Quantum Crossings LLC -- was long ago a top aide and patronage chief for former mayors Richard J. Daley and Michael Bilandic. After that, he was a longtime chairman of the Chicago Board of Trade.
Donovan did not return calls for this report. Quantum Crossings representatives attended a pre-bid conference for vendors interested in replacing Redflex in March.
In one email to Burke's offices obtained by the Tribune, the president and CEO of American Traffic Solutions memorialized a Sept. 27, 2006, meeting he had with Bills to discuss what was then the city's nonexclusive contract with Redflex and the possibility that two vendors might be better than one.
"Mr. Bills opened with a disclosure that the contract between Redflex and the city had been converted/amended to be an exclusive contract," James Tuton said in the email to Burke's staff. "I asked when that occurred and he replied that the new, exclusive agreement had been executed a few weeks earlier. We were surprised."
Tuton, whose company is now negotiating with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration to operate the city's new speed camera program, declined to be interviewed for this report.
In a series of letters to top mayoral aides, Burke accused the administration of illegal procurement practices, "unfathomable" failures to meet minority hiring requirements, and labeled the relationship with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. "suspect since its inception."
"That the Redflex contract negotiations fail on all of these accounts is unacceptable," Burke wrote in a seven-page letter to Daley's top lawyer and chief procurement officer Feb. 23, 2007. He demanded "that efforts to purchase additional systems be abandoned until an open and competitive procurement process is undertaken."
What followed was a yearlong war of words between Burke and Daley's top aides, where Corporation Counsel Mara Georges at first defended awarding the contract to Redflex without bidding it. Burke asked more questions and threatened to drag the Daley administration into the spotlight of public hearings before his committee.
"The concerns are of such gravity that they do not fall short of meriting a more formal, public inquiry when other measures fail to elicit a substantive response," Burke wrote to Georges on April 19, 2007.
By July 2007, the Daley administration reversed course and decided to open the contract to a competitive bid. Burke never held a hearing.
"Cooler heads prevailed," said Yerkes, the only former Daley official to return calls. Yerkes said that while he remembers Burke raising concerns he does not recall the complaints about Bills.
Bills, who retired from the city in 2011 and went to work as a Redflex-funded consultant, rose through the Daley administration to become the managing deputy commissioner of transportation after a 30-year career in city government. During that time, he was also a top precinct captain in the political organization of House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
Through his lawyer, Bills declined to comment for this story.
In 2003, when Redflex was first chosen for the red-light camera pilot project, Bills was a voting member for the city selection committee. In 2007, Bills was selected as a nonvoting member of the evaluation committee but played a key role in reviewing the four bidders.
In November 2007, the five voting members of the selection committee voted unanimously for Redflex, which scored 1,030 points to American Traffic Solutions' 714. None of the committee members returned Tribune calls Friday.
"We have been told that the evaluation team score sheets show that Redflex was given a perfect score," an ATS executive wrote in an email to Burke on Dec. 4, 2007. "It means that Redflex received flawless, perfect scores from every committee member in every category. We have never seen a perfect score from any selection committee anywhere."
The ATS executive suggested it was a "conflict of interest" for Bills to be checking the references of ATS at the same time he was listed by Redflex as their government reference in bids for new business around the country.
Burke forwarded ATS' complaints to Daley's Chief Financial Officer Paul Volpe, who is now the village manager in Elmwood Park.
"If the assertions contained in the attached memorandum are true, they are quite disconcerting," Burke wrote. "This series of questions is simply the latest of many that have riddled the contracting process with Redflex and made it suspect since its inception."
The contract stood and Burke never held hearings. He declined to comment for this report.
But last month, Burke issued a new call for City Council hearings into the Redflex contract, saying "somebody ought to be looking at whether the company is responsible for what happened."
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