Friday, May 8, 2009

Aldermen schedule hearings on parking meter privatization

Posted By on 05.08.09 at 12:22 PM

All sorts of strange coincidences happen at City Hall, such as when firms that employ friends of the powerful end up winning big contracts, or when aldermen realize the very best people to fill staff openings in their offices are their brothers, sisters, and children.

Or even when hearings on the much-maligned parking meter lease agreement are scheduled just minutes after a reporter calls to see if they’re ever going to be.

As you may recall, in December aldermen bitched about being pressured to approve the privatization deal in just two days in December, but did it anyway. Then, as public outrage grew, aldermen Joe Moore and Leslie Hairston introduced separate resolutions last month calling for additional hearings on the terms of the deal and the performance of LAZ Parking, the contractor hired to manage day to day operations of the meters. Moore’s was sent to the council’s finance committee while Hairston’s was referred jointly to the committees on finance and license.

On Wednesday I got in touch with Donal Quinlan, a spokesman for finance committee chairman Ed Burke, and asked for the status of the resolutions. He checked with committee staff down the hall and then came back and told me they were still trying to find a time in the next several weeks that worked for everyone involved. “Because there are multiple sponsors, we’re still working to schedule it,” he said.

About two hours later I had a call from Moore. He wanted to let me know that he’d just received word that a hearing on the parking meter lease deal had been set for Monday, May 18 at 11 AM.

Apparently those scheduling problems had been cleared up.

So the hearings are on--but to what end?

Moore has said his call for hearings is an act of “repentance” for casting one of the 40 votes approving the lease deal. “I’m hoping maybe out of what we discover we can make some amendments to the contract, or somehow make this less odious for the residents of Chicago,” he said. “I think this has really been a wake-up call for everybody in city government that we’ve got to slow down a little in this rush to privatization.”

Hairston, meanwhile, voted against the deal and still thinks it stinks. She called for hearings in order to look specifically at how rate hikes were implemented after control of the system was turned over to Chicago Parking Meters LLC, the entity that leased the meters, and LAZ. She’s still furious from her own experiences of trying to feed quarters into meters whose rates weren't properly posted.

“They need to own up to what they did,” she said. “In some neighborhoods they were collecting more than they were entitled to under the agreement, and they knew they were marked wrong. And that is a deceptive business practice under the state consumer fraud laws.”

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