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Privatizing Chicago

The City Council should pursue the Privatization and Accountability Ordinance before considering privatizing Midway Airport or other assets.

By Emily Miller/BGA

February 7, 2013 11:35 AM

Lurking behind talk of privatizing Midway Airport, by spinning off some or all of its assets or operations to investors, is the specter of Chicago's infamous parking meter deal — perhaps the most reviled City Hall transaction in modern Chicago history.

On the surface, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is taking great pains to assure the public that any Midway transaction will not be a sequel to the parking meter fiasco.

Privatizing ChicagoHe asserts that no Midway compact will be struck until it's bathed in the sunlight of full disclosure. He has even appointed a blue-ribbon panel to "ensure transparency, integrity and thorough deliberation."

While such good intentions are welcome, the public's comfort level would be much higher if there were a law that established a clear set of rules to ensure an open, transparent and accountable process for every privatization transaction.

Unfortunately, the City Council, charged with keeping a watchful eye on such dealings, has not rallied to that important cause. The council has buried a proposed privatization disclosure act in the Rules Committee, where it cannot get a full public hearing.

The proposed Privatization and Accountability Ordinance was introduced by Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th.

The Better Government Association supports the spirit and intent of this proposed law because it creates a standardized, transparent and accountable process to use whenever the city wants to privatize any asset or service valued at $250,000 or more.

It strives to correct glaring inadequacies in the privatization process that gave us the parking meter debacle under the Daley administration.

For example, the city does not require that cost-effectiveness studies be performed to ensure that deals are financially necessary and sound. Nor does it require a public debate.

The proposed ordinance changes that by requiring a cost-effectiveness study that would be presented at a public budget committee hearing, providing time for public scrutiny and discussion.

The ordinance requires that, once the council approved a privatization deal, contracts will be awarded in a public, competitive bidding process to avoid conflicts of interest or other sleights of hand.

It also requires that vendors submit annual performance reports to ensure compliance with vendor standards.

These safeguards are important because Emanuel is open — some say eager — to privatizing public assets.

Residents must have a standard process they can rely on, and city officials must understand that they are being held publicly accountable for their privatization decisions.

The Privatization and Accountability Ordinance deserves a public hearing, but it won't get one if it's stuck in the Rules Committee, where it has languished since November.

In addition to the 32 aldermen who support the ordinance, public employee union AFSCME and the Illinois Public Interest Research Group in Chicago back the disclosure effort.

It's time for Ald. Richard Mell, 33rd, chairman of the powerful Rules Committee, to move the ordinance to another committee so there can be a real public dialogue about privatizing assets and services in Chicago.

What's the worst that can happen? We avoid another parking meter meltdown?

Emily Miller is the policy and government affairs coordinator for the Better Government Association.

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Robert Munson
Emily--Thanks for shining a light on the fact that 32 Aldermen support this ordinance and only 1 can prevent it from being discussed.This obstruction is particularly problematic because this Ordinance tries to prevent the City's worst financial scandal from occurring again. Mr. Mell's obstruction also raises the larger issue of who the City Council serves and feeds the public cynicism that is driving the City into insolvency. Why should we pay more taxes and let the money be treated with contempt by our "representatives"?The proper path to avoid bankruptcy is to treat the public's assets with respect; instead of making them fodder for a desperate fire sale, like the parking meters.BGA, keep up the good work.
9:14 AM Feb 13th
Donald Gordon
Emily, I signed and submitted your request to one of the few aldermen who have yet to sponsor this bill - our 49th ward alderman, Joe Moore. However, I have some concern over the availability of true transparency in this legislation. The bill certainly seems to add a great deal of clarity to the process, however, unless I'm missing something, I see no requirements for posting all of the steps of the process along with the relevant information on a site available to the public and in a timely manner. Did miss something, because without that level of transparency in accessibility and comprehensibility, citizens will not have an opportunity to engage in this process...
12:43 PM Apr 18th

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