Meter Deal Opponent Takes Her Own Show on the Road | Bleader

Friday, March 12, 2010

Meter Deal Opponent Takes Her Own Show on the Road

Posted By on 03.12.10 at 06:35 PM

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Last month I reported that the brokers of Chicago's parking meter deal were taking their show on the road, most notably to Pittsburgh, where city officials have signed up the investment bank Morgan Stanley and the law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman to advise them on a potential lease of parking meters, lots, and garages. The city of Chicago paid Katten Muchin Rosenman about $720,000 to do legal work on the privatization of our meters and downtown parking garages, and Morgan Stanley is the primary investor behind the operation that controls the meter system for the next 74 years.

But it sounds like members of Pittsburgh's city council have heard Chicagoans grumbling about our deal and want to learn more before they enter into one of their own.

Leslie Hairston—one of five aldermen to vote against Chicago's meter agreement—appeared at one of their meetings and answered their questions for a couple of hours Thursday. Daley administration officials were invited, too, but our mayor and his people declined the offer.

In an interview Friday afternoon, Hairston said it was well worth her time—and that it presented a stark contrast to the lack of deliberation that preceded Chicago's deal.

"I was invited in February and asked if I would come to their city council and talk about it, because they've been doing research and they knew I'd raised lots of concerns about ours They're doing some fact finding. My goal was to help educate them about what we've learned here."

There's plenty to pass on. Hairston says she emphasized that it's not a good idea to enter into long-term privatization deals that don't protect the public the entire way. "I told them that if they're going to do this they should make sure they get some money throughout the life of the deal"—as opposed to an up-front sum that can be chewed up quickly.

"There's a way to do it, but we didn't have any public input, we didn't have aldermen review the agreement, we didn't look at option one, option two, and option three—we went at it as if we had only one option available to us," she says. "You need multiple experts looking at it so the city can have their experts, the aldermen can have their experts, you can have dueling experts so you can really take a look at it."

Hairston says she was "very well received. They were very interested. I was there for a couple of hours, and they'd had a very different experience the day before." That's when officials with Morgan Stanley reportedly advised the Pittsburgh council that it wasn't a good idea to hire an outside analyst to determine how much its parking garages are worth. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put it:

Ms. Hairston's advice for council to take an active role came a day after the body's preliminary vote for an outside valuation of parking authority assets.

Representatives of Morgan Stanley, Mr. Ravenstahl's financial advisers, had discouraged the outside review, saying it could scare away investors. Morgan Stanley's infrastructure investment group also is the leading investor in Chicago Parking Meters LLC, the consortium that received Chicago's on-street parking lease.

On Thursday, with council members still fuming about the financiers' efforts to shut down their inquiry, Ms. Hairston told them they had every right to demand a third-party study.

Hairston says she flew to Pittsburgh on her own dime. "I think it's important to go and share," she says. "You need to know what you're getting into."

The Parking Ticket Geek has a good roundup of reporting in the Pittsburgh press on Hairston's visit.

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