Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Clout Burglars

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.

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.
Or, as the Chinese dissident Sha Yexin put it in “Harpers” (h/t Batocchio):
...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.

Hello boss.

Hey Volpe.

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.

Yes boss.

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?

No boss.

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.


(sigh) Afghan?




Giant Schnauzer?




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?

Mell or…Beavers.

Oh for da love ah God.



Median strips.



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.

Thanks boss.

Proud member of The Windy Citizen


Buttermilk Sky said...

"Where in Hell did an elected official ever get the balls to think he could hock public assets for a quick buck in the first place?"

My words, more or less, when Rudolph "America's Mayor" Giuliani sold New York City's radio station some years back. I still have no answer.

tanbark said...

Good stuff, Drift!

The assholes might as well be hanging signs outside of our state, local, and federal government offices:

"For sale to the highest bidder."

triozyg said...

wouldn't that be

"for sale to lowest bidder with best connections?"

darkblack said...

'Ad space on police cars?...We're savin’ dat one for da Olympics.'Gold.


Cirze said...
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Cirze said...
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Cirze said...

Did anyone ever tell you how quick you were, Dg?

Zoom! Zap! Ka-boom!

Love it.

Because that is all this is: boosting something that you and I already paid for and fencing it like a hot car.Now. How do we get the taxpayer vengeance machine in the proper gear to run down these daylight thieves and expose this SOP of the corrupt (nationwide) to what's left of the wheels of justice?


jes sayin'.

Phil said...

You crack my ass up.

Good stuff.

anna missed said...

This one reminds me that the price of gas has gone way up recently, not because of shortages but because the deregulated hedge speculators think inflation is on the way. This in effect, is a new TAX on the people, a new tax on the people that comes without the benefit of representation. Likewise, by leasing out the parking meters to the financials,it gives them the unfettered ability to manipulate the TAX paid on using the service.

Every time the government defers (or sells) its power to the highest bidder, it's simply giving someone else the power to TAX the people without representation of regulation.

And this is what the republicans would call "freedom".

Kathy said...

Is enforcement for paying into these meters going to be done by Chicago Meter maids, or by the "Owner's" own people? What if a meter is vandalized or stolen?

karen marie said...

so if the city has privatized the parking meter does this mean the city no longer supplies meter maids or cops to enforce parking in those spaces?

or this is just another deal where they're privatizing the profit and socializing the cost?

gosh, let me guess ...

Batocchio said...

I had a feeling you'd dig that piece on power. Good post, as always. I've got some family in Chicago, and this is dismaying. "No one could have predicted" this would happen, of course...

Rehctaw said...

But, but, but...

Chicago's parking meters LEAK over a billion quarters a year. The meter department winters in Maui. What will happen to THEM now?

Since the Midway Airport deal evaporated and the Chicago Skyway deal's principals have exercised their revenue renegotiation option and the O'Hare concessions deal has somehow LOST money...

Volpe's no genius. The Reader's source just didn't want to credit Richie Rich with actually coming up with AN idea.

Daley's question to Volpe was "Okay, so NOW how do we nickel and dime the good people of Chicaga for another Billion$$$?

Volpe had just received his bag of swag from his guy in the meter department...


Richard M. Daley; himself. The Charlie T. Tuna of Mayors.

But don't the coffin planters on the old skid row look mahvelous!

Distributorcap said...

pretty sooon they will sell the streets and traffic lights -- and you will have to pay to stop at a red light or go through a green one....

gotta love that "ownership society"

justme said...

One Billion Dollars.Accepting the truism that Their Reality Has Lapped Our Satire, I truly worry that your version of that conversation isn't nearly absurd enough.

tanbark said...


"Ownership society"...

As the home foreclosures continue, nearly unabated...

When we hear that phrase, we should ask the GOP's

"Shitspeakers-r-us, Inc." If that's the best job they can do of buttfucking the english language cross-eyed.

I know for a FACT, it's ONE of the reasons that Drift is pissed, about 24-7. Me, too.

Anonymous said...

"Ownership society"

Republican translation: We own your ass.

Cirze said...

Me too, Tan.

I wish every questioner of power from now on would begin their question with your unforgettable words:

"Sir, do your fellow members of "the ownership society" accept the premise that SRU, Inc., defines their gambit? And if not, why not?"

"Shitspeakers-r-us, Inc." If that's the best job they can do of buttfucking the english language cross-eyed.S

Anonymous said...

Seems like a well organized civil-disobedience action is in order.

chautauqua said...

Paging Cool Hand Luke at the Courtesy Phone....

Rehctaw said...

He'p is on the wa ayyyyyyyyyy!

RFK's son has announced that he's formed a exploratory campaign for the 2010 Illinois Senatorial Seat.

Chris Kennedy, current President of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago (and NO, it's not the city's "purchasing" department)is considering getting into the race with Lisa Madigan, Alexi Ganoulius, and perhaps, Roland "If I can raise some funds" Burris.

If we can stand the Leader's daughter as AG, Da Boss' son as da mare, the Big Dummy's son, Lil' Dummy as Crook County Board Prez,
The Lipper's "Li'l Lip" as congresscritter of the 3rd. JJ Jr. as congresscritter of the 2nd,

Why not a Kennedy scion? That'll make it all kosher.

Professional Left Podcast #602

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” -- Zen saying Don't forge...