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Cook County tries to bully suburbs

Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Daily Herald
by Daily Herald Editorial Board

If you had any remaining delusions that the controlling faction of the Cook County Board of Commissioners actually represents the county's suburbanites, you should drop them now.

In the latest outrage, board President Todd Stroger and his supporters threaten to abdicate maintenance of some suburban road intersections if the towns won't let the county put red-light cameras there (and collect all the ticket money from mostly suburban drivers.)

In typical Stroger fashion, his administration did not talk to suburban officials before the county board voted to cash in on the red-light camera craze by sticking the towns with the devices at a number of intersections that include at least one county-owned road.

Later pressured to let towns say no to the cameras, Stroger and his allies apparently were caught by surprise when nearly every Northwest Cook County town proceeded to opt out.

Now, Stroger has obtained a legal opinion from the Cook County state's attorney's office saying towns that reject the county-operated red-light cameras are claiming jurisdiction over the intersections in question and now become liable for maintenance, including repaving, traffic lights, snow plowing, signage and cleanup.

That's expensive - potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for Schaumburg alone, which has taken down its own red-light cameras and decidedly does not want to host a half-dozen for the county.

The county's strong-arm maneuver will cost suburban residents any way you look at it - in legal fees, in higher road maintenance costs or in $50 tickets for slow-rolling right turns on red.

At least Stroger's money grubbing settles one thing: The county's interest in red-light cameras has little to do with public safety and a lot to do with generating cash.

It goes without saying that the suburbs need to band together to challenge the county's position rather than give in to Stroger's bullying. Stroger spokeswoman Chris Geovanis hints the legal opinion just might leave room for negotiating.

But suburban residents don't want the county's red-light cameras or the new road-maintenance nightmare, and towns should not settle for a compromise that includes either of those intrusions.

County commissioners from the suburbs - all of them up for re-election in November - need to join forces across party lines to fend off Stroger's latest attack.

Let's hope that once Stroger's gone after the fall election, the county board will come to realize that threats are not the way to improve its dysfunctional relationship with the suburbs.

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