Daily Herald
Cook board lets suburbs opt out of red light cameras
By Robert McCoppin | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 6/15/2010 3:01 PM | Updated: 6/15/2010 6:23 PM

Reacting to a backlash from angry suburbs, the Cook County Board agreed Tuesday to let towns opt out of its plan to install red-light cameras at certain intersections.

"It's wonderful news. It saves us the cost of litigating," said Al Larson, mayor of Schaumburg, which experimented with its own red-light cameras but removed them all and had threatened legal action to keep the county's cameras out.

The county board voted 9 to 4 to let municipalities choose not to get the red-light cameras, with all but one of the suburban commissioners going with the majority. Democrat Joan Patricia Murphy of Crestwood voted present, as did Deborah Sims and Robert Steele of Chicago.

"This is all about the money," Commissioner Timothy Schneider, a Republican from Bartlett, said in opposition to the cameras. "If this was about public safety, we wouldn't even be addressing revenue."

Under a pilot program, the county board two weeks ago approved plans to install cameras at 20 suburban intersections.

The cameras were projected to raise about $2 million a year for the county from traffic tickets given to drivers who run red lights.

If the program was later expanded countywide, Schneider said, that could bring the county government's revenue up to $40 million.

"The people of this county are overtaxed in sales tax and property tax," he said. "Now we're trying to fleece them one more time."

More than half the potential camera sites were in the Northwest suburbs, with six in Schaumburg alone. Arlington Heights also wanted to ban the cameras, and officials in Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village and Palatine were researching ways to fight the county's plan.

A 2009 Daily Herald investigation showed that many red-light camera tickets were given for slow-speed right turns on red and that cameras were often at high-traffic areas but not necessarily ones with many accidents. Schneider said that was the case for the intersections on the county's list.

Cook County Commissioner Joseph Moreno of Chicago first proposed the cameras three years ago with the board's support, but said commissioners are now reversing themselves because of political heat from their mayors.

Moreno admitted getting two red-light camera tickets himself, but said he learned his lesson. He maintained the program was about preventing deaths and injuries, not about money.

"Shame on you all who voted to give this company a contract and now you're taking it away," he said. "That's a little hypocritical."

County Board President Todd Stroger's spokeswoman Christine Geovanis said she did not expect Stroger to veto the opt-out provision.

It remains to be seen whether any towns would elect to participate in the Cook County red-light camera program and how the opt-out would be enacted. Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Pat Driscoll said such exceptions are typically managed through intergovernmental agreements, rather than through a unilateral decision.

Some commissioners said towns now may be able to negotiate terms by which they might accept red light cameras, for instance excluding tickets for right-on-red or asking for a cut of the revenue from tickets, which typically cost $100.

Both supporters and opponents of the opt-out provision agreed the municipalities should have been consulted before last week.

Suburban commissioners voting for the measure included Schneider, Tony Peraica of Riverside, Gregg Goslin of Glenview, Elizabeth Gorman of Orland Park, Peter Silvestri of Elmwood Park and Larry Suffredin of Evanston, who had previously voted for red light cameras, but said he was not aware local officials had not been consulted.

•Daily Herald Staff Writer Eric Peterson contributed to this report.