We’re still waiting.
On the cover of this week’s print edition of the Reader Ben Joravsky and I lay out a time line showing how the Daley administration rammed through its deal to privatize the city’s parking meter system, sacrificing transparency for a one-time cash payment. Many questions remain about the value of the deal (Did we the taxpayers get anywhere close to a fair price for giving away a revenue-producing asset for 75 years?), its implications for people who use the meters (Will a company supposedly selected for its ability to manage a parking system actually figure out how to do it?), and especially the decision-making and oversight process that went into it (How exactly were the bidders vetted? Or were they?).
To that last point: when city officials announced they’d struck a lease deal in December they assured the public that it was the culmination of a competitive bidding process. Yet they refused to reveal who besides the winning bidder, Morgan Stanley, had participated.
Four months and a couple of Freedom of Information Act requests later, we were given documentation (which we’ve posted along with the story) showing that a year ago ten firms submitted packets showcasing their financial and management “qualifications” to lease the meters—but that only two of them followed through with bids a few months later.
Did the city find the others “unqualified”? Did the firms decide on their own not to proceed? And if so, was it because they decided they weren’t interested after all or because they realized there was no point in trying?
I called the half-dozen U.S. firms that didn’t end up submitting bids. None got back to me.
On Monday I also called the city’s budget office and asked spokesperson Peter Scales. He said he’d have to find out from those in the know. Tuesday morning he told me he hoped to have answers by the end of the day. I’ve left a couple messages since and still haven’t heard back.
Maybe the answers are more complicated than I can imagine.
In the meantime, Mayor Daley has been spreading the gospel of privatization-for-cash across the country. Among others, Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is big on the idea—he’s now looking into privatizing that city’s zoo, convention centers, parking meters, and garages.
A recent memo he circulated to members of the LA city council—passed on to me by our local watchdog the Parking Ticket Geek—hailed Chicago as “the North American leader” in “public-private partnerships” and declared that the contract to run our parking system had been “granted through a public and highly competitive process.”
It went on to note: “There have been recent reports in the media regarding the challenges Chicago is currently facing with the implementation of the meter concession. It is reasonable to expect some initial difficulties with significant changes of this scale, given the relative novelty of [such] transactions. We are monitoring these reports to assess all implications for the City, and to learn from Chicago's experiences.”
Is the Chicago city government doing the same?