Parking Meters -- The Easy Version | Bleader

Parking Meters -- The Easy Version

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The last time Mick Dumke and I wrote about the cockamamie parking-meter deal, an alderman phoned in to say that the story was too long and complicated for him to follow.

The conversation veered into a discussion about our favorite TV shows, and I wound up thinking: if only we'd thrown in a sex scene or two we might have held his interest.

We've just posted Fail, Part II. Sorry--no sex scenes. But in case it's too long and complicated, here's a brief version for aldermen and other attention-challenged readers:

The parking meter deal that my aldermanic caller and his City Council colleagues voted for last December--at Mayor Daley's insistence--sucks. It sucked then. It sucks now. It will suck even more in the future.

How's that for keeping it simple, alderman?

Of course, I suppose most of you--aldermen excluded--probably suspected as much from the start. But the thing about this deal is that the more you study it--and Mick and I have been turning it inside and out for months--the worse it looks.

Here's what we've learned so far:

On October 17, 2007, Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed wrote about a tip obviously fed to her by the Daley administration. The city was gearing up to lease its parking meters for about $1 billion. Or as Sneed put it: "1 BILLION bucks for the cash-strapped city."

I guess us peasants were supposed to be impressed by that figure. Just to be clear, she put it in caps. She went on to report, "The sweetener to the deal is already on the books: a provision to raise the parking meter rates, which is clearly a carrot for whomever buys the meters."

Over a year later, on December 2, 2008, Mayor Daley held a press conference to announce that after a rigorously monitored bidding process (as opposed to handing the deal to a company that employs his nephew) he was going to lease the meters to Morgan Stanley for--surprise!--about $1 billion.

It turns out to be a winning move for Mayor Daley. He gets the money--nearly 1.16 billion--up front. He's pretty much free to spend it any way he wants. For all we know he may just want to put it in a big pile and burn it. Or spend it on the Olympics, which amounts to the same thing.

And it's a great deal for Morgan Stanley, which quadrupled parking rates and can look forward to hauling in buckets and buckets of cash for the next 75 years.

As for the suckers who call Chicago home: sorry chumps, you lose--again. That parking rate hike Sneed alluded to was supposed to bring in about $55 million to the "cash-strapped city." Instead, we're only getting at most $20 million a year in interest from the portion of the $1.15 billion Mayor Daley has socked away. So that means we're facing a $35 million a year hole in the budget where parking meter revenue used to be, which our mayor can either make up by raising fees or taxes or by cutting services, like, oh, fixing potholes.

Meanwhile, the city has informed alderman Scott Waguespack that the meters are worth considerably more than $1 billion--probably closer to $5 billion.

So Mayor Daley sells the meters for less than they're worth and will have to raise fees or taxes to compensate for the revenue that's going to Morgan Stanley instead of into public coffers. You pay more in parking meter fees and you get less in service. Is this a great deal or what?

As for all the careful analysis the mayor conducted before leasing the meters, for the last five months Mick and I have been begging the city to turn over documents that reveal what analysis they did at all. They best they could come up with is about a couple dozen pages of gibberish, much of which is blacked out. I'm not making this up. It's like a suspense novel with the good parts missing. On November 21 and December 1, 2008, for instance, they held a bid opening meeting. The documents say that Jim McDonald, a lawyer for the city, reviews the bid packages and . . . then they black out three quarters of the page. What in the world could they be concealing--Jack Ruby's accomplice? Seriously, what are they trying to keep from us? Was there someone in the room they don't want us to know about?

If Cook County Board president Todd Stroger had come up with this harebrained scheme the Tribune would be screaming and Mayor Daley would be lecturing him on the need for fiduciary responsibility.

Come to think of it, I wish Todd Stroger had come up with this deal. Then there might have been some pressure to kill it.

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