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Cook state's attorney refutes red-light-camera ultimatum

Thursday, August 12, 2010
Daily Herald
by Ted Cox

A new letter from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office refutes the idea that the county could force red-light cameras on suburbs by threatening them with maintenance of the contested intersections.

Deputy State's Attorney Patrick Driscoll, the formal liaison to the county board, wrote in a letter this week that he never expressed such an opinion, and that he believes any transfer of jurisdiction from the county to the municipality would have to be mutually agreed upon. The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Daily Herald, was written by Driscoll to county Commissioner Timothy Schneider, a Republican from Bartlett.

Chicago Democratic Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno and spokesmen for President Todd Stroger have insisted Driscoll backed their ultimatum to force red-light cameras on municipalities or put the onus for maintenance and care of those intersections on municipalities that opt out.

Moreno claimed he had a legal opinion from Driscoll stating that, if a suburb opted out of the program, it was in effect claiming jurisdiction over a contested intersection and could be forced to officially oversee it - a costly process meant to cow suburbs into submission.

Driscoll, however, refused to comment on it publicly, citing attorney-client privilege, at least until the release of this week's letter.

"No such opinion exists," Driscoll wrote Schneider in answering his request for a copy of that supposed document.

The Stroger administration eased away from a hard-line stance on the issue in response, while insisting that the legal justification was not part of an official "opinion," but "draft-amendment language" meant to explore amendments that could potentially be added to the actual red-light-camera legislation.

Stroger spokeswoman Chris Geovanis said there could be a legal issue over a continued high rate of accidents at a contested intersection where a suburb opted out.

"The fact that the municipality declined to have red-light cameras installed there might be exposed to litigation," she said, while the county could argue it did all it could to prevent that.

Otherwise, however, Geovanis backed off whether the county would attempt to force red-light cameras on reluctant suburbs. "We're still considering our options," she said.

The Stroger administration "remains committed to working within the spirit of Cook County law," she added, "and we continue to review options for next steps..."

Moreno, who like Stroger is a lame duck, having lost his re-election bid in the Democratic primary, did not respond to requests for comment.

Schneider also did not return a call for comment.

A county pilot program authorized earlier this year would place 30 red-light cameras at intersections, including six in Schaumburg, which has already tried and rejected red-light cameras. Schaumburg Mayor Al Larson and state Rep. Mark Walker, an Arlington Heights Democrat, came out against the Cook program last week and called on Stroger to start a discussion with suburban officials on the issue.

In this week's letter, Driscoll wrote, "The county must enter into an agreement with a municipality before transferring maintenance responsibilities for county highways." He cited several statutes for that opinion.

The county board does not have a meeting scheduled in August, but the issue figures to resurface at its next meeting Sept. 1.

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