A group of eight aldermen—all members of the Chicago City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus—have sent a letter to Inspector General Joe Ferguson asking for an investigation into the city’s troubled red light camera program.
The alderman want details pertaining to the program and specific data on the system’s management, standards, revenue and other facts, including reasons why the program may have issued as many as 13,000 tickets in error.
A recent Chicago Tribune investigation into the city’s red light camera program found that of more than 4 million tickets issued since 2007, thousands of Chicago drivers have been tagged with $100 red light fines they did not deserve, along with clear evidence that deviations in Chicago's network of 380 cameras were caused by faulty equipment, human tinkering or both.
After the Tribune investigation came to light, Mayor Rahm Emanuel found himself under the spotlight for problems in the system. In response, Emanuel has pointed to plans by the city to send letters to 9,000 drivers offering 45 days to request a review of their violation by email, phone, mail or in person as a way to defuse attention and avoid a growing public relations disaster.
For members of the Caucus, however, the mayor’s attempts to address the problem aren't enough. At issue are key questions about how the program is run, who’s in charge, what the city is doing with the erroneously collected fines and the real reasons for the program’s malfunctions.
The aldermen see the letter to Ferguson as a continuation of requests for information on the program dating back to February of 2013, when PRC member and 45th Ward Alderman John Arena sent a letter to Ferguson asking for information on how the city determined where to place the cameras and who was involved in setting up the program.
A retired Chicago official who managed the program for almost a decade was arrested in May for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to steer city contracts to Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., the system’s original contractor. In August, 2013, the city fired Redflex and hired Xerox State & Local Solutions to manage the program.
Yet, according to the aldermen, very little is actually known as to who in the Emanuel administration has actual control over decisions, then or now. As a result, the aldermen are asking Ferguson for information such as a flowchart of all city staff working on the program, along with their location, titles, salaries and responsibilities.
The letter also asks for recommendations from the IG’s office on how to increase transparency and accountability for the troubled red light camera program.
The lack of transparency over how the system is run and by who is part of an ongoing pattern by the Emanuel administration to keep critical information about city programs from the public and other government entitles, such as the City Council, says 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack.
“This request is an attempt to expand our previous inquiries into the program, and find out who’s really involved in the decision making,” Waguespack told Ward Room. “For us as aldermen, the real goal is to look at a program that has been in practice for over ten years and find out if the program as a whole is worth keeping. The question comes down to whether red light cameras are designed to increase safety or increase revenue. We’re hoping the IG can help answer these questions.”
Waguespack also says this isn't he first time a controversial city program was steeped in misinformation or suffered a lack of clarity over who was in charge and how decision are made.
“Everyone of these alderman [who signed the letter] have been frustrated with lack of response by this administration, and we want them to be held accountable on who’s running the program,” he said. “Mayor Emanuel says he’s the most transparent mayor ever. But there’s a difference between providing useless information in the name of transparency and providing the data to truly understand understand what’s driving policy. All we’re asking for here is the appropriate info to determine of a policy or program is right for the citizens of Chicago.”
The PRC members who signed the letter include Waguespack, Bob Fioretti (2), John Arena (45), Leslie Hairston (5),Ricardo Munoz (22), Toni Foulkes(15), Rod Sawyer (6) and Nicholas Sposato (36).