CHICAGO - The Chicago City Council approved Wednesday a $39 million settlement that could reimburse some drivers who got tickets from red-light and speed cameras.
Drivers who qualify will receive letters in the mail during the next few months with instructions on how to collect. While $39 million is a lot, it could have cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions if a class-action lawsuit succeeded in court, city attorneys said.
The red-light camera program, which has been riddled with controversy and corruption, and will cost taxpayers millions. However, Mayor Rahm Emanuel continued Wednesday to defend the program, which he said saves lives.
"I take responsibility under my tenure on what happened," Emanuel said.
For years, the city did not follow its own law by failing to give ticketed motorists a second notice and enough time to pay the fine. A class-action lawsuit was filed two years ago. About $12 million of the settlement is for forgiving unpaid tickets and a big chunk of the dough goes to attorneys.
"Attorneys are getting $11.7 million of this that is flawed that money should be reimbursed to the people not the lawyers," said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th Ward).
Beale said if 100 percent of ticketed motorists submit to get reimbursed, they will only get $7.
"A whopping $7, if county has its way that will get you a two liter," Beale said.
Besides the settlement, the city has made changes to the program and sued the red-light company Redflex over a bribery scandal. However, that is not enough for many citizens, some of whom voiced their concern during the city council's public comment period.
"The moral thing for the city to do is to draft a resolution ending red light/speed cameras," said Mark Wallace, of the Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras.
As of now, the city has no plans of abandoning the 14-year-old program. Some alderman would like to see more cameras downtown, where there is more traffic and less cameras in poor neighborhoods. Many feel the program unfairly targets minority residents.