Though I believe it’s important for columnists to quickly call out politicians for their more-dubious pronouncements, never let it be said that Jeff Ward doesn’t have a sense of fair play!
Instead of continuing my full frontal assault on Geneva’s pair of heinous red light cameras, I interrupted that offensive until the March 20 primary dust had settled.
You all know I’ve never been a fan of these unconstitutional devices, but this particular attempt to eliminate them started with a state Sen. Chris Lauzen press conference at Williamsburg Avenue and Randall Road.
That’s where 1st Ward Alderman Sam Hill challenged me to write the truth about Geneva’s cameras. As it turns out, the truth is:
- They are a money maker, bringing in $177,223 last year.
- There was a 91 percent drop in citations issued right around the time Mayor Kevin Burns announced his county chair run.
- They don’t make those two intersections any safer.
Despite that data, Mayor Burns persisted in insisting this was all about safety and not revenue. In a press release response to Lauzen’s press conference, he even went as far as declaring, “We don’t issue tickets for right-turn-on-red.”
Since you also know just how I feel about uncompromising blanket political statements, the FOIA request was submitted shortly thereafter and here are the 2011 camera ticket results:
As you can clearly see, the mayor’s idea of writing no-right-on-red camera violations vastly differs from my own and probably yours. Unless my math skills are fading, 1,415 of them is significantly greater than zero.
When confronted with these numbers and his own statement, the mayor replied, “As a journalist, you certainly know that what is often printed is not necessarily what is said,” adding, “What I have said and have written ... is this: ‘The city does not focus on right-turn-on-red violations.’ ”
In other words, we misquoted him!
But rather than explain how difficult it is to misquote a written document, I simply sent him his own statement.
“You are correct in that a release of mine … did indeed state that but, the release was incorrect,” the mayor responded, “I accept responsibility for the error but it does not change the city's policy of not issuing violations for right-turn-on-red unless the violation is blatant.”
In other words, he misquoted himself.
The fact that most local municipalities manage to rack up a 60 percent ROR camera ticket record does make Geneva’s 40 percent look a little better, but I’d still say that number constitutes a great deal of “focus.”
For comparison purposes, I also acquired St. Charles’ camera data which backs up their claim that they don’t single out right-on-redders. Of the 250 citations issued in 2011, only 66—or 26 percent of them—went to errant ROR turners.
Even if you cut our numbers in half, on three separate occasions Geneva wrote more tickets in a month than St. Charles did all year at an intersection that’s far crazier than either one of ours!
Here’s the bottom line! The odds of a rolling right on red causing an accident are an astonishingly low—.00029 percent, or 1 in 345,000 turns. If Geneva continued to write 1,415 ROR tickets a year, it would take 244 years before one of those turns actually caused an accident.
Mayor Burns and the aldermen can flap their gums all they want, but this program has little to do with safety and everything do with revenue. Because if Geneva really did stop writing ROR-turn violations, the cameras wouldn’t even pay for themselves.
But what bothers me even more than the mayor’s mendacious ways is that it took a glorified freelancer to call him on it. Where are all the reporters?
Instead of leaving the Lauzen press conference arm in arm with Alderman Hill, perhaps Chronicle reporter Brenda Schory could’ve taken 30 seconds to send a one sentence FOIA request to the City of Geneva. It’s really not that much to ask.
Whenever an elected official issues a statement along the lines of, “My God man! We would never (fill-in-the-blank),” the least the folks of the fifth column can do is make the minimum effort to verify it. No wonder people are losing faith in the press.
So yes! Despite the mayor’s previous proclamations, not only does Geneva write ROR camera tickets, but they write quite of few of ‘em. Their imminent 2013 departure notwithstanding, it’s time to either call ‘em what they really are, or take ‘em down and end the charade.