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Illinois: Suburbs Revolt Against Cook County Red Light Camera Plan
Chicago, Illinois suburbs upset at county attempt to force unwanted red light cameras on city streets.

Board President Todd H. Stroger
By The Expired Meter

Suburban municipalities are infuriated by the Cook County, Illinois Board of Commissioners' plan to install unwanted red light cameras in their towns. On June 2, the board voted 10 to 3 to approve contracts with two vendors to begin installing cameras at thirty intersections on county roads throughout suburban Cook County. More and more municipalities are now pushing back. The Schaumburg Village Board voted unanimously Tuesday to pass an ordinance prohibiting the county from erecting red light cameras within their city limits without the town's consent.

"We had a good relationship with the Cook County Highway Department," explained Schaumburg trustee George Dunham. "But this thing came out of left field. It was a surprise."

Dunham does not think it is a coincidence Cook County assigned cameras to six intersections in Schaumburg -- the most of any suburb.

"I think they took our experience out here and figured they can put themselves in the black in just a few years," Dunham said, referring to how one red light camera the village had erected near Woodfield Mall generated over a million dollars in revenue in just 75 days. Schaumburg eventually decided to remove that camera nearly 16 months ago.

Schaumburg's attorney, Jack Siegel, feels the board's plan undermines the village's home rule rights and may be violate the Illinois state constitution. The village board not only instructed their attorney to send a letter to the Cook County board to ask them to reconsider their decision, but also gave him the green light to file a lawsuit against the county's actions immediately according to Dunham.

"As soon as he can," is how Dunham described the speed of the legal filing. "There's no reason to wait any longer than he has to."

Even the town's website implores residents to contact county board members to voice their opposition.

"The people of Schaumburg don't want red light cameras," said mayoral candidate Brian Costin who came out in opposition to the county's plan hours after it was announced. "I applaud Mayor Larson and the village board for doing the right thing. It's not about public safety, and it's infringing upon local police powers. It's obviously about revenue. They probably didn't pick the most dangerous intersections, but intersections where they can generate the most money."

Schaumburg's move came a day after Arlington Heights unanimously approved a resolution asking the county board to rethink its plan. Arlington Heights, which employs the same attorney as Schaumburg, also asked him to draft an ordinance banning red light cameras, according to the Daily Herald.

Buffalo Grove, which just a few months ago had rejected plans to install red light cameras, is planning on taking a vote on an ordinance to keep the cameras out at a June 21 village board meeting. In addition, Wilmette, according to a Chicago Tribune report, drafted a resolution against the county's red light camera plan.

At least some county board members may be backpedaling on the issue. According to the Daily Herald, because the county completely surprised the towns with the red light camera plan, Commissioner Larry Sufredin of Evanston, who voted for the red light cameras, is now looking to delay installation until after electing the new board president in November. Commissioner Timothy Schneider of Bartlett, who originally voted against the cameras, will try to push for an amendment to allow local municipalities to opt out of the red light camera program.

Overall, there seems to be some real legal confusion on whether the county can impose red light cameras on roads in municipalities where they do not have the primary responsibility for police enforcement. Costin believes the potential legal challenges to the red light camera program may delay and possibly derail the plan.

"It's going to be a legal disaster for them," laughed Costin. "The Cook County Board hasn't even approved an ordinance for the red light cameras yet, even though they OK'd the (vendor) contracts. Plus the Illinois constitution has no precedence for Cook County or any counties to enforce red light cameras within a municipality's jurisdiction."

Dunham agreed.

"It seems odd how they decided to move forward without supporting legislation," the Schaumburg trustee said. "But Cook County is famous for things like this."

The Cook County Board will meet again June 15 to debate these matters.

Detailed coverage of Chicago motoring issues can be found at The Expired Meter.

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