A possible change in the way Will County government uses aerial photos in code enforcement cases is coming into focus after much debate.
At a joint land use and judicial committee meeting on Tuesday, seven members voted in favor and one voted against a measure that would prohibit county departments from using aerial photos to “initiate administrative adjudication enforcement proceedings.”
Administrative adjudication is a system the county instituted a few years ago to handle ordinance violations that are less serious than ones that are sent to the courthouse.
A public hearing on the aerial photo measure will be held sometime in January.
Judicial committee Chairman Reed Bible, D-Plainfield, said it’s probably not a bad thing to assure residents that county government isn’t routinely reviewing aerial photos to see what’s going on in their back yards.
With news of federal security agencies listening in on phone calls and viewing emails, “It’s not paranoia anymore,” he said of the public’s concerns about government spying.
Bob Howard, D-Beecher, and other committee members stressed that the proposed policy is not in reaction to county government doing anything wrong in the past.
“This shouldn’t be a witch hunt to hammer anybody,” he said.
The effort, which was spearheaded by Will County Tea Party Alliance founder and county board member Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, started in April and is only now gaining traction.
When Balich first proposed limitations on land use, he said the county’s use of aerial photos and photos taken from neighboring properties violated the Constitution’s 4th, 5th and 14th amendments and rights granted in the Declaration of Independence.
But after much debate and sharing of court opinions, Balich has tempered his remarks.
With the help of Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Tatroe, who heads the civil division, language was crafted that prohibits all county departments from using the photos to initiate code enforcement cases.
However, the aerial photos can still be used as additional evidence when building or zoning violations are detected or reported in some other manner. Land Use Department Director Curt Paddock also noted that his department can still use aerial photos to initiate cases involving more serious violations that would go straight to court rather than the adjudication process.
Tuesday’s lone “no” vote came from board member Beth Rice, D-Bolingbrook, who said she doesn’t like the fact that the county board is delving into a second topic that is more appropriately debated at state or federal levels. The first topic was Balich’s quest to get the county to endorse a concealed carry handgun measure being debated in Springfield. In both cases, Balich said government was trampling Constitutional rights.
“It sounds glamorous to say, ‘I’m fighting against this,’” Rice said. “But I think it detracts from county business.”