Kadner: Oak Lawn’s red-light camera friend
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org February 12, 2014 10:24PM
Updated: March 14, 2014 8:40AM
Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury recalls that John O’Sullivan “made some introductions” months before the village signed a deal with SafeSpeed to install new red-light cameras.
O’Sullivan, the Worth Township Democratic committeeman, told me he works as a consultant for SafeSpeed.
“I arranged for several Oak Lawn officials to go out to the SafeSpeed headquarters to see how they do things,” he said. “It was sort of a tour of their facilities.”
O’Sullivan, in his capacity as township committeeman, also has been arranging regular get-togethers at restaurants with Southland mayors.
“It’s just a way for them to get together and talk about things of mutual interest,” he said. “We try to have guest speakers. We had Gov. Pat Quinn come out to the last one.”
O’Sullivan told me he doesn’t pitch SafeSpeed at those meetings, and several mayors I spoke with said they never had heard O’Sullivan make a sales pitch for the red-light camera company at the gatherings.
“I think they are a very positive thing,” Bury said. “It’s just a way for us to get together, socialize and exchange ideas.”
But the request for proposals to supplement Oak Lawn’s current red-light camera system struck me as strange.
The start date for the camera companies to make their bids was Jan. 2 and the end date was Jan. 9. With Jan. 4 and 5 falling on a Saturday and Sunday, that meant that a company had only five working days to put together a proposal.
The village board voted to approve SafeSpeed at its Jan. 28 meeting.
“I don’t think that (short time frame) was a problem because there are very few companies in that business, and they all know how to put together their bids pretty quickly,” village manager Larry Deetjen said.
“We had already talked to the company we are currently using, Redflex, about changing the way they do things because we had some problems with their technology. It’s outdated. We asked them to update the technology, and they really didn’t want to talk about that.”
Deetjen said he and several other village officials toured SafeSpeed’s operations center separately and came away impressed.
Deetjen said he believed he first talked to SafeSpeed officials late last summer or early fall “after a story appeared in your newspaper, I believe, about problems with the Redflex system.”
He said accepting the low bid really wasn’t a key issue with the red-light contract “since you’re talking about technology here, and the low bid isn’t always the best one or the one you should accept.”
Three companies ultimately submitted proposals to Oak Lawn, Deetjen said, “and we chose SafeSpeed because they met all of the criteria we were looking for in a company.”
The village already has red-light cameras at 97th Street and Southwest Highway, 95th Street and Cicero Avenue and 95th Street and Ridgeland Avenue. Those are operated by Redflex under a contract that will expire in 2015.
But Oak Lawn is interested in “pursing additional red-light cameras at appropriate intersections,” according to Deetjen.
SafeSpeed will conduct traffic studies to justify installing cameras at those additional intersections. The Illinois Department of Transportation ultimately must decide whether an intersection is dangerous enough to justify installing a red-light camera to improve safety.
O’Sullivan told me he recently launched a consulting business, Gateway Planning and Consulting, but when asked about clients other than SafeSpeed he said “that’s confidential information.”
SafeSpeed officials failed to return several calls, seeking comment about O’Sullivan’s relationship with the company.
O’Sullivan engineered a Democratic takeover of the Worth Township government last spring, and last summer he got a $45,000-a-year job as the township’s building and maintenance supervisor.
A longtime Cook County Health and Hospitals System employee, O’Sullivan was involved in a controversy when the county inspector general accused him of falsifying his timecard.
O’Sullivan successfully fought that accusation, but the incident came back to haunt him when he obtained a job with the Cook County Forest Preserve District and then lost it after county board President Toni Preckwinkle came under fire for hiring him.
Between those two jobs, O’Sullivan was selected by Cook County Democratic leaders in 2010 to replace state Rep. Kevin Joyce in the 35th House District after Joyce resigned and moved to Florida. A few months later, O’Sullivan cast a vote in Springfield for the temporary state income tax increase.
O’Sullivan said his meetings with Southland mayors occur about every three months at local restaurants. There have been meetings in Crestwood, Blue Island, Worth and Oak Lawn, he said.
He said the Worth Township Democratic Organization picks up part of the cost, but someone else, “a host community or individual” sometimes pays the tab or gets a price break at a restaurant.
When I referred to the meetings as “supper club” meetings, O’Sullivan said that was misleading because “there’s just usually drinks and appetizers, maybe pizza, but no big meals.”
Worth Mayor Mary Werner said she found the meetings “really helpful because I was just elected (last April) and really didn’t know any of the other mayors.”
Like Bury, she said she never heard O’Sullivan talk about SafeSpeed at the meetings.
Of course, any good businessman knows that making social contacts is the key to success.