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Schaumburg fighting Cook County over traffic cameras

Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Daily Herald
by Ashok Selvam and Sheila Ahern

Schaumburg apparently became the first municipality to fight Cook County over the installation of red-light cameras with an ordinance prohibiting them without village approval.

Mayor Al Larson said the cameras are "all about revenue" and that Cook County officials should have contacted the village before the county board last week voted for 20 cameras at 30 suburban intersections.

Other suburbs including Arlington Heights and Buffalo Grove are exploring similar ordinances to prohibit the cameras. Schaumburg Village Attorney Jack Siegel said he expected Wilmette to also adopt a similar ordinance Tuesday night.

Schaumburg's action comes the same day two Cook County commissioners announced plans to hold off on the cameras.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin of Evanston, who supports the cameras, said he wants to "slow the process down" and wait to install the cameras until a new county board president is seated after the November election.

He said he's started to poll his fellow commissioners and believes he has the votes to enact a delay.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Timothy Schneider of Bartlett, who opposes the cameras, wants an amendment that would give local officials the authority to opt out.

"That's what we want," Larson said, voicing his support for the commissioners' plans.

Schneider said the county's action "flies in the face of sensibility for the county to be able to tell a home-ruled community what and what they cannot do."

Schaumburg installed its own cameras but took them down last year when officials said they weren't needed. Larson and other Schaumburg officials see the six cameras the county wants in the village as a challenge to their authority.

The county cameras would be up for at least a year, as the county assesses whether they improve safety at those corners.

State Rep. Paul Froehlich told the board Tuesday cameras increase safety. The Democrat from Schaumburg said he appeared at village hall in 1996 advocating them.

"I don't understand why you want to protect motorists who run red lights from being detected and fined," Froehlich said. "I don't understand why you don't want to prevent crashes by deterring motorists who don't abide by a red light."

Froehlich added he didn't want to see Schaumburg use its recently enacted property taxes to pay for a lawsuit battling Cook County over the cameras. He also pointed out that Larson, for once, agreed with rival mayoral candidate Brian Costin. Costin opposes the cameras and thanked the board during the meeting for adopting the ordinance.

Meanwhile, Suffredin and Schneider said they'll present their measures at the June 15 county board meeting. Schneider said he supports Suffredin's proposal and that Suffredin will co-sponsor his motion.

Suffredin agreed with Schaumburg officials that they didn't receive enough of a notice.

"I found out yesterday our highway department didn't talk to any of the mayors or village presidents or city and village mangers in the communities where the cameras would be installed," he said. "It strikes me that needs to be a prerequisite."

Voters on Nov. 2 will elect a new Cook County Board president to replace Todd Stroger, who lost the Democratic primary to Toni Preckwinkle. She'll face Republican Roger Keats and the Green Party's Tom Tresser.

Schneider said he opposes the cameras in all instances and believes it's only a revenue ploy. He refuses to give more money to the Cook County budget, which he describes as "bloated, wasted and mismanaged."

County officials estimate at least $20 million in annual revenues from the cameras.

On Monday night, the Arlington Heights village board asked for a similar resolution to be drawn up. Siegel, also village attorney for Arlington Heights, said it wasn't a question if the cameras were good or bad, but about authority.

"The fact that the county may own the streets does not necessarily give them the right to regulate them," he said.

The Buffalo Grove village board will vote on their version June 21, Village Manager Bill Brimm said. Municipalities need to send a message to Cook County by adopting their own ordinance, added Buffalo Grove Village President Elliott Hartstein.

"We have serious concerns when the county is willy-nilly passing rules without even talking to us first," he said.

Mayor Jim Schwantz of Palatine, another town scheduled to get county cameras, said his village board hasn't talked about fighting back yet.

"We're still trying to get our arms around what the county is looking for," Schwantz said.

Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said his staff is researching a possible ordinance, as the county plans to put three cameras in his village. The village already has six cameras of its own.

"It'll be premature for us to be acting on anything right now," Johnson said.

Suffredin said he appreciates the ordinances prepared by the municipalities but still supports the eventual installation.

"I still view it as a safety issue first," Suffredin said.

Schneider expects other municipalities to draft their own ordinances after they discover all of the camera revenue will go to the county.

•Daily Herald staff writer Madhu Krishnamurthy contributed to this report.



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