The Forest Park Village Council at its Monday meeting entered into a three-year contract for school bus cameras with RedSpeed Illinois, LLC, a company with local ties that donated to three sitting commissioner’s political campaigns. The cameras are attached to the stop signs which extend from the side of school buses and are intended to catch drivers who illegally pass stopped school buses.
Stating that Forest Park would be the first municipality to install the school bus stop-sign cameras, Commissioner Tom Mannix praised the Illinois General Assembly for passing bill SB 0923 which allows municipalities and school districts to enter into contracts with vendors to install and operate an automated traffic camera system on school buses. The law was passed this year in Springfield and goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014.
“I’m proud that we are the first community in Illinois to put the safety of children first,” said Mannix in a telephone conversation after the meeting.
RedSpeed Illinois donated a total of $750 to the Forest Park PAC, a combined political action committee for Mayor Anthony Calderone and commissioners Mark Hosty and Mannix. The most-recent donation was $500 on Sept. 30, 2013. RedSpeed also donated $250 in 2012. The company donated $250 in 2007, $500 in 2010 and $500 in 2011 to Friends of Anthony Calderone.
The chief lobbyist for RedSpeed in Springfield is Al Ronan of Oak Park, former fundraiser for governors Blagojevich and Ryan and separated husband of River Forest Village President Cathy Aducci. Ronan also assisted RedSpeed in a failed attempt to install red light cameras in River Forest in 2011. The contract went to a competitor.
RedSpeed sales manager Greg Zito attended the council meeting. Zito is a former state senator from Melrose Park and close friend of Ronan’s and Skip Saviano, a former state legislator and current mayor of Elmwood Park.
The contract is a three-way agreement between the village, Forest Park Elementary School District 91 and RedSpeed to install traffic cameras on the district’s school buses.
According to the new law passed in May, drivers will pay a $150 fine for the first violation and $500 for subsequent violations. Motorists would not rack up moving violation tickets as they would if a police officer wrote them a citation for passing a parked school bus.
Gillian told the council the money collected in fines by RedSpeed must be split 50/50 between the village and the school district, but that D91 had made clear it would return its share of profits to the village to help pay for crossing guards and school safety signs.
District 91 Superintendent Louis Cavallo said the village approached him about the contract shortly before the October school board meeting. The board has not yet voted to approve the contract he said.
Cavallo said he is aware that drivers illegally pass parked school buses.
“One driver told me she had six stop-arm violations in one day,” Cavallo said. However, he said, “We are not in the revenue generating or code enforcement business. I told the village we would return the money [to the village]. We are only interested in the safety of children.”
According to the contract, RedSpeed’s cameras will take photos of traffic violators who pass the school buses while they are parked with the stop sign arm extended and warning lights flashing. The company will process a digital photo and 20 second video clip of violators for a service fee of $5.99. RedSpeed will then retrieve information on the registered license plate owner of the vehicle from a Secretary of State database for another $5.99 and issue a citation, which it will process for another $5.99. According to the contract, RedSpeed would also receive $299.99 per bus per month for equipment and maintenance of cameras. The district has two school buses that travel twice a day across the village. A third bus does special education pickups in residential areas and a fourth is kept for special trips.
All citation payments are collected by RedSpeed, which would issue monthly statements and payments (if any) split between the village of Forest Park and D91. If RedSpeed issues an invoice of its costs to the village higher than the amount of fines collected, it will bill the village monthly for the difference, the contract says. But the village will never have to pay RedSpeed any more than actual cash received, the contract says.
“I don’t care if the village doesn’t get a penny,” Mannix said after the meeting, “I just want children to be safe.”
At the council meeting, the contract was praised as a way to ensure the safety of children getting on and off of school buses, with Mannix saying he wanted Forest Park to get a reputation among motorists who passed school buses illegally.
Commissioner Rory Hoskins said he supported the contract but hoped the village would also continue to look into traffic calming devices and traffic islands near schools as a way to further help keep school children safe near village streets. Hosty also said he hoped the bus cameras would be a first step to making the streets safer for school children.
Commissioner Chris Harris voted against the measure.
“I was hit by a car as a child in the street,” Harris said. He said he opposed traffic cameras on principle and thought the goals of keeping children safe on the streets could be better met with more officer patrols at school time.
Police Chief Jim Ryan said he didn’t know off-hand how many traffic citations were issued in past years for motorists who illegally passed school buses.
When asked later about campaign contributions, Mannix said he called around to other red-light camera companies and RedSpeed was the only company he could find in Illinois offering the bus stop arm camera services. He was uncertain about which companies he called, he said.
A Google search shows at least two other red-light camera companies offer bus stop-arm camera systems in Illinois including Redflex, the company which rolled out the much-maligned Chicago red-light camera system this spring. American Traffic Solutions, active in Illinois also offers stop-arm camera services.
When asked about the PAC contribution Hosty texted, “I don’t keep track of those things.”
“I’m happy that we have another way to protect children,” he said.
“I see you’re looking for the bad instead of good as usual,” Hosty added.
Calderone did not immediately return a text requesting a response.
This article has been updated to include all campaign contributions received by Mayor Anthony Calderone from RedSpeed Illinois, LLC and the elected state office formerly held by Greg Zito.