I was going through my mail the other day when a return address caught my attention. City of Chicago – Department of Revenue. Now, I love this city as much as any other kid who was born and raised here. But I also have a personal philosophy that I try to maintain. Pay the city no additional monies at any time! Yup, I’m cheap like that!
I have won all but one of my appeals with the city over parking tickets. So I was ready for whatever was in that envelope.
But I wasn’t as ready as I thought. The bright red heading had the words most dreaded by anyone who opens a letter from that city department. Red Light Violation! The infamous red light violation taken by the cameras when you run a red light. The camera that the city says “doesn’t lie.” Now I’ve read about the horrors of that kind of notice. Legend has it that it is the one ticket that you cannot beat. At last count, the city was raking in over $37 million a year in fines. That money I am sure the city is using to make sure we don’t have pot holes in the streets, or to offset the pesky property taxes that they seem to love to raise.
A “$90 #&@! ticket” is what I said. Yes, I used the kind of language that St. Peter will hold against me on Judgment Day. As I unfolded the notice to see the photographic evidence of my crime, I immediately became perplexed by it all. The city had sent me their definitive pictorial proof of my crime, but I can’t say for sure what my crime was!
In the first scene, there was the corner of Narragansett and Irving Park. 6:49 in the morning. Not a soul in sight. The overhead light glowed bright red. There are no vehicles in the picture. Wait a second! The city’s wonderful camera system has taken a picture of an empty intersection!
The second photo shows my truck, in the right lane. My brake lights are on. I can see the crosswalk in front of my truck. I can even see the bold white line in the street. Hmm, looks to me like a perfect Illinois Rules of the Road stop at a red light. The last photo shows a beautiful close-up of my license plate.
This will be a violation that I will contest. But first I have to go to one of the city’s locations. If I go to Chicago and Kedzie, there is plenty of free parking, a line that snakes out the door and no metal detectors to pass through. If I go to 400 W. Superior, there’s no parking lot, empty lines and I must empty all pockets and succumb to a body search because of the metal detectors. Well the decision was easy. Damn my Fourth Amendment rights to unreasonable searches and seizures! I’ll take the metal detectors at 400 W and be done in a flash!
So I’m contesting that ticket. And of course I expect to win. While there, I decided to check on a parking ticket from October 2006. I had gotten a ticket for parking too close to a fire hydrant. I contested the ticket and waited to get a card to go before the hearing officer. Well I waited and waited and never got a notice. I had last checked on that ticket in December 2006, so I decided to check again. And guess what? Six months after applying for a hearing, the officer who gave me the ticket has yet to turn it in!
Now one of the reasons I had contested that ticket was that the violation seemed suspicious to me. I even have pictures of my truck and a measuring tape to prove that I was one inch further away from the minimum that the law states. When I asked why the ticket couldn’t just get dismissed because the city doesn’t have any proof of the violation, I was told no. If the ticket is not in the system, they cannot send me in to a hearing officer to have it dismissed. Ok. So if I can’t have a hearing because the officer failed to turn in the ticket and the ticket is not in the computer, what would happen if I wanted to pay the ticket? Oh we can accept the payment, the woman told me. We have a special fund that we put the money into and when the ticket finally shows up, we’ll credit the money against the ticket.
I finally got a hearing notice for the end of this month on the red light violation. After winning the hearing, I am going to ask the city to reimburse me for my time and travel expenses to fight their phony ticket. I think $90 is a fair amount. And before someone writes in and tells me I could have just mailed in the facts to contest the ticket, I tried that years ago. The city claimed it never got the proof, doubled the ticket and made me pay.