Stop, before they privatize: Groups want to save Chicago from another parking meter deal

Stop, before they privatize: Groups want to save Chicago from another parking meter deal
The Parky Pig sticker on a downtown parking meter. Photo by Sophia Nahli Allison.

Everywhere you turn these days, another plan to privatize a city service seems to be in the works. Ventra cards, a new payment system for the CTA and administered by a San Diego-based company, have made headlines all this week. Before that was the plan to privatize Midway Airport, though the deal fell through when one of the contract finalists dropped out.

With so much privatizing taking place, why don’t we know more about these deals? That’s the question posed by a coalition of unions and open-government groups that include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 and the Better Government Association. They are  offering an answer: the Privatization, Transparency and Accountability Ordinance.

The proposed ordinance would require the city to take several steps before signing any privatization contract. These include a cost-effectiveness study, a report put together with the union that represents any affected workers, mandatory City Council committee hearings, and proof of a competitive bidding process.

Adrienne Alexander and Parky Pig hit the parking meters in downtown Chicago. Photo by Sophia Nahli Allison.

On the City Council’s website, 32 aldermen have signed on in favor of the ordinance. But it isn’t going anywhere fast.

That’s because the ordinance has been buried in the Committee on Committees—Rules and Ethics, famously called “where good legislation goes to die” by the Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky— for nearly a year. The measure was first introduced on Nov. 15, 2012. Now, ahead of the coming budget and before the proposed ordinance’s one-year birthday, the labor and community groups are mounting a media campaign to try to drag it out of committee and up for a vote.

To renew interest around the ordinance, the groups have created a Twitter hashtag, #PTAONow, to garner online interest, and they’re mounting a sticker campaign. In the shape of a porky pink pig named Parky Pig, the stickers are to remind Chicagoans that the $6.50 an hour they feed downtown meters is going into a private company’s pockets.

Pushed through by Mayor Richard Daley in 2009, the parking meter contract leased the city’s meters to a private entity for 75 years in return for $1.2 billion. The result was higher parking fees. Mayor Rahm Emanuel renegotiated the contract last spring, to mixed responses. 

Adrienne Alexander, a policy and legislative specialist for AFSCME Council 31, spent the day Wednesday posting stickers on parking meters across the city on. “The parking meter deal is the biggest privatization deal people interact with on a daily basis,” she said, and one that has come to represent the folly of under-scrutinized deals.

Currently, the City Council isn’t required to even vote on a privatization contract, Alexander said. To keep Chicago from ending up with another deal like the meters, an ordinance that “gets to the bottom of democracy” is essential.

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