by Mick Dumke
The front page of today's Sun-Times proclaims that Mayor Daley is set to "take the blame" for the parking meter "fiasco" in a south-side speech tonight.
But when you actually read the story inside, which is based on a copy of the speech that was provided to the paper, it turns out that the mayor isn't apologizing for the length or terms of the lease deal, the way it was conceived and forged behind closed doors by no-bid contractors, the speed at which it was rammed through the City Council, the degree to which it's restricted the city's ability to manage the flow of traffic, or the pressure it may put on future aldermen trying to piece together balanced budgets long after this mayor's dead and gone.
In essence, Mayor Daley is sorry that he and his staff didn't figure out how to make the deal sound good before members of the public concluded it was a stinker.
And unless there's more to the speech than the Sun-Times has let on, the mayor will not actually say anything new in it. He'll once again emphasize that the city and Chicago Parking Meters LLC, the company picked to run the system, should have come up with a smoother process for transferring from public to private management.
"I'll be the first to admit that we totally screwed up the way it was implemented. I want us to do better--and we will," Daley will reportedly say.
Here's what he said in May, when outrage over the deal surged because people were being ticketed at meters that didn't work or didn't display the proper rates: "I'll take the responsibility. . . . There should have been a transition—a much better transition—and there wasn't. That's one thing we learned. There should have been a three-month transition."
And here's what he said in June, after Inspector General David Hoffman blasted the agreement: "There should’ve been a transition of three or four months, that’s all. If there had been I believe we wouldn’t have had all these problems.”
When he gets questions about the way the deal was struck and how well taxpayers made out, the mayor emphasizes that without it the city could be in an even bigger budget hole than it is. More workers would be laid off and more services would be cut.
But that's not the point. This isn't about whether the city could use the money from the deal, because the city could use the money from anything right about now. Traditional sources of revenue, like taxes on real estate sales, have dried up, yet the administration has to find $6 billion dollars a year somewhere.
The point, then, is whether leasing the parking meter system was the only option available. "While we do not question the seriousness of the City’s budget problem that was presented in Fall 2008 because of the recession, the hasty, 'crisis' nature of the decision-making process meant that the short-term budget problems and the large upfront payment the City was receiving overshadowed all other legitimate, long-term, public-interest issues," Hoffman's report states. "These failures meant that, among other things, the City did not allow for proper consideration of alternatives to the exact 75-year lease deal it entered into."
Even if privatizing the parking meters was the best alternative, the key issue would be whether the administration, starting with Mayor Daley, followed a process to ensure that the most qualified people available conducted the most sophisticated analysis possible to come up with the best agreement for taxpayers.
Mayor Daley has yet to tell his constituents that this happened. And it's going to be hard for him to do so, because all evidence available suggests that it didn't.