Spinning off some or all of Midway Airport to private investors is a high-flying topic that many civic-minded Chicagoans are eager to discuss, debate and learn more about, especially in the wake of that ignominious disaster known as the parking meter deal.
For instance, the American Planning Association held a session on Chicago’s privatization plans, including Midway, at a recent convention here in Chicago.
And this week the Union League Club, a BGA partner and a leading civic voice, is hosting a panel on privatization that will certainly explore Midway’s fate.
It seems like almost everyone in the public policy arena wants to kick the tires, inspect the engine and check for dents before signing onto another transfer of Chicago’s public assets to private investors.
Everyone, that is, except one powerful alderman and, by inference, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who controls the City Council even more completely than his predecessor.
Up to now they’ve stonewalled a conversation starter that’s sitting right in their laps — a proposed ordinance that would establish a legal process for evaluating, reviewing and approving major public-to-private transactions.
It calls for public hearings, a cost-benefit analysis, and enough time to thoroughly review the findings before any public asset or service can be privatized.
Introduced in November by Ald. Roderick Sawyer, the bill has 32 co-sponsors — nearly two-thirds of the City Council— but it’s still languishing in the Rules Committee, a legislative burial ground chaired by veteran alderman and ward boss Dick Mell, father-in-law of an imprisoned ex-governor.
The normally loquacious Mell won’t tell us why he hasn’t scheduled a public hearing or put the proposal on the council floor.
In fact, he’s been uncharacteristically mum, even as council colleagues and reform groups, including the BGA, prod him to stop stalling and get moving.
He even ignored 316 emails and 74 phone calls from participants in our advocacy campaign.
When a frustrated Ald. Sawyer raised the issue at Wednesday’s meeting of the Rules Committee — asking when the ordinance would be moved — Mell said he had to check with “the administration” first.
That means the self-styled “transparency and accountability mayor” who hasn’t gotten Mell off the dime yet.
For the record, the BGA hasn’t taken a formal position on privatization except to say it should be decided on a case-by-case basis, with enough transparency and due diligence to protect city residents after the negotiators reach a tentative deal.
That never happened with the disastrous parking meter privatization deal because the Daley administration rammed it through a rubber-stamp City Council at breakneck speed to plug a massive budget hole.
Unfortunately, the collateral damage was a permanent hole in the pockets of unsuspecting city drivers.
Simply stated: Bad process begats bad results.
Emanuel understands that. And he controls the council, including Ald. Mell.
So mayor: Stop the stalling. Get the privatization oversight bill out of the back room and into the light of day for a public hearing and a vigorous City Council debate.
If it’s got shortcomings, fix them. If it needs tweaks, tweak away.
But don’t play games with city residents who are still angry about that “other” deal, and wary of any more privatization that doesn’t dot every illuminating “i” and cross every transparent “t” before we have to live with it.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-386-9097.