"Are you feeling alright King Richard?" That's what Chicagoans should have been asking former Mayor Richard M. Daley back in January 2009 when he signed a 75 year lease turning Chicago's parking meters over to a consortium of private investors calling themselves Chicago Parking Meters L.L.C.
In return for this lease, Chicago received a one time cash infusion of $1.2 Billion dollars. On the surface this seemed like a good deal. A private company would take on the burden of managing the city's extensive network of parking meters and Chicago would obtain a substantial "rainy day" fund. But then problems started popping up thick and fast.
The first of these was the infamous "quarter jams" that made the older coin operated meters malfunction and led to unnecessary tickets. Since they are a private company, Chicago Parking Meters raised the hourly rates for parking around the city (in some locations by as much as 50%). This required more quarters for each person who parked in the space and caused the meter box to fill up with coins faster than it could be emptied.
Then came the "pay and display" boxes that allowed payment by credit card but whose buttons frequently jammed in Chicago's cold weather and whose display screens were often impossible to read.
Once these kinks were ironed out, the next problem was the portion of the lease requiring the city to pay Chicago Parking Meters whenever an event closed a city street or city parking lot with meters.
The grumbling hasn't stopped since the ink dried on King Richard's deal, but little (we thought) could be done. Until now.
Today "Il Duce" (a.k.a. Mayor Rahm Emanuel) ordered an audit of the parking meter lease. Emanuel is hoping to use this audit to avoid paying Chicago Parking Meters L.L.C. the $50 Million dollars in lost fees that C.P.M. says the city owes them and their investors.
Whether Il Duce's power play works or not, you have to give him credit for being ballsy. Now that most of the lease money is spent, it seems like he's going to not only contest the street closure fees C.P.M. claims by right of the lease but also try to find a way out of the lease.
If he fails and can't find a way to spin that failure (like his horribly mismanaged performance during the teacher's strike), then he's a schmuck from Wilmette. If he succeeds, he just might make us forget his predecessor--the King who took leave of his senses and sold our parking to the highest bidder.
What a town! Let's hope the Mayor can out-hustle the hustlers.