Meanwhile, in local malfeasance...
If you’re not from around here you may not know that the City of Chicago recently sold off its parking meter franchise to private contractors for a billion dollars and change. The deal was cut secretly, hurriedly (almost frantically) and for a fraction of what the meters are worth. And instead of allowing a decent, figleafing interval to pass to allow Da Mare to get all red-faced and pretend that He Din't Know Nuttin! the parking company instead jacked rates through the roof before the ink on their sweetheart contract had even dried, thus thoroughly fucking over the very citizens on whose behalf the deal had allegedly been rammed through, and stranding City Hall without a plausible alibi.
Which, for anyone who has not grown up under the pervasive, ethically smothering pall of the Chicago Machine, would raise some obvious questions. Like, f’rinstance, where in the Hell did an elected official ever get the balls to think he could hock public assets for a quick buck in the first place?
Because that is all this is: boosting something that you and I already paid for and fencing it like a hot car.
Outsourcing public services makes a ruthless kind of sense only when those services can be provided to the citizenry more efficiently and at lower cost. But a parking meter isn’t some high-end web design project or complex social program. It is a pure revenue-generator already; an iron box that exists solely to move money from your pocket into the City’s coffers. And without a coherent ethical framework or theory of government, the prudent outsourcing of a few services quickly becomes a mindless, piecemeal fire sale of every damned thing in a desperate rush to raise quick cash (and occasionally kneecapping a local union).
And that is exactly what is happening in Chicago.
The Reader has the story here:
Fail Part II: One Billion Dollars. New evidence suggests Chicago leased out its parking meters for a fraction of what they’re worth.Or, as the Chinese dissident Sha Yexin put it in “Harpers” (h/t Batocchio):
In April the Reader documented how the Daley administration hid its process for privatizing the city’s parking meters from the public and the City Council. Now, three months into the deal, the city still won’t explain how it determined what the deal was worth—and new evidence suggests the taxpayers were hosed out of billions of dollars.
By Ben Joravsky and Mick Dumke
When Daley administration officials announced in December that they were leasing out the city’s parking meters for nearly $1.16 billion over 75 years to a consortium of investors headed by Morgan Stanley, they assured the media and anyone else who asked that this was a great deal for taxpayers in economic hard times.
On February 8, 2008, the city announced that it was looking for qualified firms interested in leasing the meters. In words that would come back to haunt him, Paul Volpe, Daley’s chief financial officer at the time, said a private company would do a better job of running the meter system. He said the lease would probably last 50 years.
DePaul professor H. Woods Bowman, an expert in public finance who in the early 90s served as chief financial officer of Cook County, says the idea didn’t make much sense to him. “The argument in favor of selling public assets is that a lot of the assets aren’t tied to the core functions of the government, or that there are cost inefficiencies associated with them,” he says. “Parking [policy] ought to be a core function of the city, and there are no appreciable operating efficiencies to be gained here. It only costs the city a couple of million dollars a year to run the system.”
By their own admission, most of the aldermen at the meeting had not seen the proposed contract, but it probably wouldn’t have clarified matters—the formula it offers for determining what the city would lose in these circumstances is based on a complicated set of calculations involving “the then current Metered Parking Fee, Period of Operation, Period of Stay, Rate to Fine Multiple Factor and Expected Utilization Rate.”
Even without this information, the city council voted 40-5 to approve the deal, and within weeks Chicago Parking Meters as much as quadrupled hourly rates at meters all over town, igniting outrage among motorists.
...power makes people stupid.
By using mathematical theories, the American scholar Jonathan Bendor proves the great value of independent thinking and the limitations of decision makers. When leaders are too busily occupied with myriad state affairs, institutional methods can be used to ease their cognitive constraints, by seeking wise solutions from among the people and encouraging independent thinking in government officials. But in a totalitarian country, such institutional methods do not and cannot exist.
Most power-holders in such countries are fond of dictatorship. Each of them puts forward his “ideas” and “theories” when it is his turn to rule the country, hoping to see his thought adopted as the “guideline” to unify the thinking of the whole nation. Acting in this way, they deprive themselves of the kind of wisdom and talent that are needed to solve the thorny problems facing the country. As a bunch of dumbbells, they can not help becoming an object of ridicule among the people.
Of course, as is the case with calculatedly opaque monarchies, none but the Leader’s courtiers can say for sure how this particular dodgy and bone-headed decision transpired.
However, knowing for certain that decisions of great importance are often made in a hurry, with pencils on the backs of envelopes in meetings on the 5th floor of City Hall at which no minutes are ever kept, we can have some fun with an occasional new feature I’m calling The Dramatization of Events Unknown.
Our dramatis personæ today are Da Mare
And Mr. Paul Volpe, hizzoner’s current chief of staff, former budget warlock, and the grim enforcer
of the Boss’ will.
City Hall. Night. Phone rings. It’s the boss.
Uh….what can I do for you?
So da thig is, I need a billion dollars. For da people. Ah Chicago.
Volpe (forcing a weak laugh): What happened to the last billion I gave you? I told you not to spend it all in one place.Long silence.
You tryin’ to be funny, Volpe?The chief stays quiet. If they don’t want to be dispatched to
the Great Limbo of city college administration for eternity,
this is a skill chiefs of staff for Da Great City Ah Chicago
learn very quickly.
‘Cause you ain’t funny, Volpe. You never been funny.
So what about dis billion which your Mare needs for da people ah Chicago.
Well boss, we’re broke. I mean, we told everybody we’re broke. We fired people. We’re going to fire more people. I don’t see how we can keep crying poormouth one day and then pulling money out of thin air the next?
I read the fucking papers, Volpe, and none a dat’s your problem. You problem is getting’ me my billion dollars. For da people. Ah Chicago.
But I’m not the budget guy, boss.
Well who is?
I don’t know.
How do you not know dat!?
I…I don’t know why I don’t know.
Ain’t it dat Johnson guy?
He quit. Last year.
Oh yeah. Da shower ting. Look, Volpe, it don’t matter whedder I call you chief ah staff or da King ah Monkey Island. You’re my money guy. Unless you got an itch to maybe run a dog grooming programming over at Malcolm X?
Ever’body loves dogs.
No thanks boss.
An I hear a guy can make some good money givin’ dog haircuts. ‘Specially dose big dogs. What’re dey called?
I dunno boss.
Anatolian Shepherd Dog?
Bouvier des Flandres?
Burkina Flopping Hound?
Dat ain't a real dog.
I give up boss.
But how do you not know dis information if you’re gonna give dog haircuts? Unless now you’re tellin’ me now you don’t wanna give dogs haircuts?
That’s right boss.
An’ what’s your title again?
King of Monkey Island.
So when am I gonna get my billion? For da people. Ah Chicago.
I can have a proposal on your desk in, uh, three days.
You got five minutes.(There ensues a four-minute pause.)
We could sell something.
Whad’ya got left on da list?
Ad space on police cars?
We're savin’ dat one for da Olympics.
“Win a Date With a Committee Chair”?
Who you got?
Oh for da love ah God.
Well….if you really think so.
Sure. I mean, uh, definitively. Definitely.
So are you tellin' me you recommend we sell da meters? For da people. Ah Chicago.
I do. Absolutely. Of course we’re gonna need the Council on this. You think that’ll be a problem?(Four minutes of uninterrupted laughter)
I don’t care what udder people say about you, Volpe. You’re a funny guy.