Disaster response expert named city transportation chief

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appointed an executive with a disaster response company Friday to lead Baltimore's Transportation Department at a time when the agency continues to struggle with its speed camera program.

Her pick, William Johnson, has worked since 2005 as a senior manager at O'Brien's Response Management, which billed itself as a provider of emergency preparedness, response management and crisis services when it merged last year with another firm.

Johnson has 20 years of public- and private-sector experience in urban transportation, public works, and emergency preparation and response, the mayor's office said. At O'Brien's, he worked with Florida's Transportation Department to develop response and recovery plans for natural disasters.

He also managed inspection, assessment and reconstruction of some public buildings and infrastructure damaged last fall by Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey.

From 2000 to 2002, Johnson was Philadelphia's streets commissioner, managing a $450 million budget and 2,300 employees. In 2006, he was acquitted by a federal jury of charges that, while streets commissioner, he conspired to use $13,000 in federal money to pay for two parties in his honor, according to court records.

Rawlings-Blake also named Andrew Smullian as her deputy chief of legislative and government affairs. Smullian will represent the city before the federal, state, and local governments, including the City Council, according to the mayor's office.

Johnson will take over from Frank Murphy, who has served as acting transportation director since January, when Rawlings-Blake promoted Khalil Zaied to be her deputy chief of operations.

"William Johnson has many years of experience overseeing urban infrastructure projects, and he understands the complex needs of a growing city," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "Baltimore's role as an economic engine for the state depends on our ability to maintain our roads to support the daily commute of workers and the commerce moving in and out of our port every day."

Johnson will inherit a speed and red light camera network that hasn't issued tickets in weeks as officials try to ensure an end to recurring problems.

A Baltimore Sun investigation last year found that several speed cameras had logged inaccurate speed readings. Police officers approved as many as six citations a minute, the investigation found, and city judges routinely threw out tickets for deficiencies.

The city stopped issuing citations in January after the camera system went offline during a rocky transition to a new vendor.

New cameras that cost the city $2.2 million were rolled out by the new vendor, Brekford Corp. of Anne Arundel County, and in late February some of the radar-equipped cameras began citing drivers for allegedly going at least 12 mph over the limit in school zones.

In April, officials again stopped issuing speed or red light camera tickets after it emerged that one speed camera had been programmed with the wrong limit and an incorrect mailing address was printed on citations.

While the speed camera troubles have drawn the most attention, the department has faced other challenges over the past year.

In November, city officials said 12 agency employees had stolen about $60,000 worth of scrap metal.

Also last year, transportation officials revamped how the city hires companies for its lucrative towing business. The overhaul came after a Sun investigation found that a few companies were able to bypass the city's competitive bidding system and were not required to show they were best equipped to provide the service or that they charged the lowest rates.

The Transportation Department subsequently issued requests for proposals, and in August the city awarded $1.8 million in new contracts.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

scalvert@baltsun.com

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