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Parking-Meter 'Tragedy' Could Be Averted By New Privatization Ordinance

By Ted Cox | November 17, 2015 6:35pm
 The City Council is out to avoid another
The City Council is out to avoid another "tragedy" like the 2008 parking-meter deal.
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DNAinfo/Erica Demarest

CITY HALL — Seeking to avert what one person called another parking-meter "tragedy," a City Council joint committee applauded a proposal Tuesday demanding transparency in all major privatization deals.

The ordinance, originally sponsored by Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), had been sidetracked for years before Mayor Rahm Emanuel endorsed it this summer.

"I'm happy to see it moving," Sawyer said. Adding that he was "satisfied" with the final language, Sawyer said, "I think most everybody is overall happy with the outcome."

The ordinance calls for a 90-day period to weigh all major privatization deals, such as those involving the Skyway and, of course, the infamous 2008 parking-meter deal, ramrodded through by Mayor Richard M. Daley's administration with little time for aldermen to consider it from all angles.

 Ald. Roderick Sawyer talks with Ald. David Moore ahead of Tuesday's joint committee meeting.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer talks with Ald. David Moore ahead of Tuesday's joint committee meeting.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

It also demands public hearings and committee meetings, as well as the appointment of an independent adviser to determine if the city is receiving "fair value" for its asset.

Judy Stevens, policy coordinator with the Better Government Association, cited the parking-meter deal and called the ordinance "an important step forward in preventing another such tragedy."

Budget Director Alexandra Holt pointed out the ordinance would also call for the city to lay out a plan for spending whatever money it was getting, while setting aside 10 percent that cannot be touched until half the time is expired in whatever lease is agreed upon.

The ordinance, if passed at Wednesday's City Council meeting, would kick in with any deal valued at more than $400 million, although the threshold for privatizing city services would be set far lower, at $3 million. Holt confirmed that the recently discussed privatization of the city's 311 service, dropped just before passage of Emanuel's 2016 budget, "would need to go through this process."

Ald. John Arena (45th) took issue with the $400 million threshold, saying he would have liked the process to be used on the 20-year, $270 million digital billboard deal the city signed three years ago.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) likewise said the city had an outside audit done on the parking-meter deal, but the inspector general later found it badly undervalued the worth. "Fair value is not as objective as you might think," Tunney said.

Yet the ordinance was otherwise well-received by the joint Finance and Budget committees, and figures to be passed in a procedural move Wednesday morning ahead of the City Council meeting.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) applauded Sawyer, but also the mayor, saying Emanuel displayed "a far greater commitment to transparency than previous mayors."

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