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Aerial photography shot down in Will County

Updated: June 17, 2014 2:00PM



Will County Executive Larry Walsh decided to end the distraction and debate on the issue of aerial photography by signing an executive order Wednesday prohibiting its use to initiate any investigations by the county land use department.

“We have serious business to do at Will County and I have come to the conclusion that this issue has become a distraction that takes my staff away from important county business,” Walsh said in a news release. “This practice has never been utilized to my knowledge, and with this action, it never will under my administration.”

The issue has been debated for months and was the subject of a recent public hearing by the county board’s judicial committee, which voted not to amend its current policy by prohibiting its use to initiate investigations.

Typically, an issue is dead if voted down at the committee level, but the county board’s executive committee last week voted to put the matter on the agenda for Thursday’s board meeting to allow all board members to vote on it. That, in turn, raised concerns about the integrity of the committee process.

The effort to change the policy for the land use department was led by board member Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, who said a constituent complained to him about photos being used to discover code violations on his property.

Balich was shocked by the news of Walsh’s order when contacted Wednesday afternoon.

“I had no idea this was coming. This is absolutely great. This makes my day,” he said. “It took me 13 months of fighting with everyone, 13 months to get the executive’s attention to see what a disservice this was to the people.”

If the issue were to come to a vote Thursday, Balich said he believed he had the votes to pass it.

“This takes the politics out of it,” he said.

Board member Reed Bible, D-Plainfield, chairman of the judicial committee, previously said he took issue with the executive committee’s decision to resurrect the issue and place it on the board’s agenda.

“This is a solution to a problem that does not exist,” Reed said after that Executive Committee meeting. “They are pandering to anti-government sentiment.”

Reed said he is concerned about invasion of privacy issues on the national level, but said there are no signs of abuse at the county level and such restrictions could “shackle” the land use department.

If a photo happened to detect a more serious violation, it could not be used as evidence, he said. “It’s a very useful tool for many reasons,” Bible said previously.

Walsh said he hopes the board will remove this from Thursday’s agenda.

By issuing the executive order, Walsh said he wanted to address any concerns some residents may have regarding the use of this tool in enforcing county laws.

“Unfortunately, the use of aerial photography has been unfairly criticized when it really is nothing more than a tool that our land use department, local township assessors, emergency personnel and many others use on a daily basis to effectively serve the taxpayers,” he said in a news release.

“I am optimistic that we can continue our cooperative approach to enforcing county ordinances while preserving resident’s right to privacy,” he said.

Will County has used a complaint driven process, rather than sending staff out to seek out violators.

Land use department Director Curt Paddock stated during the recent public hearing that aerial photography has been used to launch an investigation in about 1 percent of his cases.



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