CHICAGO — After months of scandal, controversy and questions about Chicago's red light camera program's integrity the City Council will hold a hearing on Chicago’s red light camera program next week.
Alderman Walter Burnett (27th), Chairman of the Committee on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety, says he invited Inspector General Joseph Ferguson to present his office's recent findings and recommendations at a hearing Tuesday, October 28th at 3 p.m. at City Hall.
"We need to make sure everything is fair and decent for everyone," said Burnett. "We definitely don't want people running the red light but at the same time things need to be fair."
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) says it’s about time. He and members of the council’s Progressive Caucus have tried to get hearings several times over the past two years of controversy.
“It’s years overdue,” says Waguespack. “With all the issues surrounding the cameras aldermen knew something has to change with this program. It’s been building up for so many years. We’ve been waiting for this a long time.”
Over the past two years, a series of Tribune stories have exposed an alleged bribery scandal involving the city’s RLC vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems. The reports led to the company being banned from holding a city contract, an Inspector General investigation and eventually resulted in federal indictments of a former city official and ex-company executive.
Another Tribune story involving mysterious spikes in red light tickets and DNAInfo coverage of tickets issued in connection with quick-changing yellow lights spurred even more Inspector General scrutiny.
One person who hopes to testify is Barnet Fagel, an anti-camera activist who helps drivers fight the $100 tickets. Fagel helped bring attention to the over 77,000 red light camera tickets issued in 2014 in which yellow lights changed faster that the federal minimum time of three seconds.
“Give me an opportunity to talk and I’ll talk,” Fagel says. “The 2.9 second yellow lights are merely the tip of the iceberg. I’ve been timing these signals for years.”
Burnett says he's open to the idea of giving refunds, nearly $8 million dollars in fines, to the tens of thousands of drivers who were ticketed this year at traffic lights with short yellows.
"All those questions will come up," says Burnett. "You'll have all my colleagues asking pertinent questions."
In advance of next week’s hearings, Scott Davis of Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras says his group is planning a protest in Burnett’s ward on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the intersection of Ashland and Ogden Avenues. The group has been holding protests the past year across the city.
The group has been trying to convince city council members to take a pledge to vote to abolish the city’s red light and speed camera programs. Davis says so far his group has been able to get Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th) and Roderick Sawyer (6th) onboard and now wants Burnett to sign, too.
“When we heard Burnett was going to have hearings we wanted to put pressure on him by driving calls to his office,” said Davis. “We want him to sign the pledge.”
While looking forward to attending Tuesday’s hearings, Fagel is not optimistic the hearings will result in constructive changes to the city's red light camera program.
“No — nothing is going to change,” says Fagel, alleging that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is "pulling all the strings and pushing all the buttons.”
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