by Mick Dumke
Rahm Emanuel’s office was kind enough to provide aldermen with a short bio of Avis LaVelle before they had to consider whether to approve her appointment to the Park District board. And, as several aldermen noted, her professional background is impressive: press aide in the Clinton administration, press secretary for Mayor Richard M. Daley, vice president of the school board, vice president of government and public relations for the University of Chicago Hospitals, president of her own consulting firm.
But something was curiously missing from her bio, and oddly enough it didn’t come up in the 45-minute discussion she had with aldermen Thursday: her ongoing role as spokeswoman for Chicago Parking Meters LLC, the company that controls and reaps millions of dollars a year from the city’s street parking system.
For two years LaVelle has defended the meter deal and the regular rate hikes that came with it, though it’s widely considered to be a financial loser for the city and was executed with no input from the public. Emanuel criticized the deal during his mayoral campaign and went even further this spring, telling an audience in Rogers Park that administration officials were looking into whether it could be rewritten or scrapped altogether.
None of that came up during the meeting of the Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs, and Recreation, even though two of the chief critics of the meter deal, aldermen Scott Waguespack and Leslie Hairston, were present—and even when the discussion turned to the prospect of undertaking other sorts of privatization schemes to raise money.
“I’m sure you will listen attentively to the issues of all the people of the city of Chicago,” gushed Hairston, who received campaign donations from LaVelle as recently as February. “The reputation that you bring to the board and your commitment not only to the community but to the city of Chicago bars none other.”
When Waguespack asked for LaVelle’s views on “public-private partnerships”—the polite way to say “privatization”—LaVelle noted that two years ago she had been part of a panel that studied “rebranding” Park District property—“exploring tasteful ways to use naming rights or to allow sponsors to take over responsibilities that the city or the parks had been previously paying for…. There were some real opportunities there to have a lot of the things that the people of the city of Chicago value in terms of activities and resources be paid for by corporations that would be more than willing to sponsor those things in return for brand recognition. I’m hopeful that some of those things can happen.”
She added that none of this should be done without careful oversight—which, as no one mentioned, the meter deal lacked, as did the CTA’s first foray into selling naming rights. “I really do believe this is a process that requires really strong local input and City Council ratification.”
The aldermen said they were open to it.
After the meeting LaVelle told me that her job as spokeswoman for CPM is unrelated to her service for the Park District. “I will recuse myself from any issues that have anything to do with that,” she said.
And she shrugged off the suggestion that her work with CPM would shape her views of potential privatization plans for the parks. “I think everything that one does informs everything that they do going forward.”
Committee chairman Walter Burnett Jr. said he didn't realize LaVelle was still working for the parking meter company, but he didn't think it mattered. “She’s a consultant for them,” Burnett said. “She’s just making money. It’s like some of these lawyers—they’ll work for whatever side pays them.”