CFL News
June 27, 2013

Watchdog Ordinance to Scrutinize City Privatization Still Chained Up

Labor joins aldermen, good government groups to call for hearing on Privatization Transparency and Accountability Ordinance

Source: DNA Info

By Ted Cox

CITY HALL — The Better Government Association on Wednesday threw its support behind a proposed ordinance that would provide closer oversight of city privatization deals, hoping to help free it from committee.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) proposed the ordinance last November. Calling it "a simple, sensible idea," Sawyer said Wednesday it would simply call for City Council oversight of any deal privatizing city property or services.

"Here we are, seven months later, and we still cannot get this initiative out of the Rules Committee," Sawyer said. "I think that's wrong."

"A majority of the City Council supports this ordinance," added BGA President Andy Shaw in a joint news conference before Wednesday's City Council meeting. "It is reprehensible for the Rules Committee to bottle it up for seven months."

The ordinance is co-sponsored by 32 aldermen in the 50-seat City Council, but it was assigned to the Rules Committee, which has been called "where good legislation goes to die."

Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), chairman of the committee, did not reply to requests for comment.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also came into criticism for failing to advance the privatization proposal — or even allow debate on the matter.

"Mayor Emanuel touted his commitment to transparency and accountability," Shaw said. "This flies in the face of that commitment. He should be using his considerable influence over the City Council to get this out of the Rules Committee and in front of the entire council."

Shaw raised the specter of the much-maligned parking meter deal in citing the need for the ordinance.

"It probably would have prevented the single biggest privatization abomination in Chicago history — the parking meter deal that we're still suffering from today," he said.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) echoed that, saying, "If we had a framework similar to the one suggested in this ordinance when we were considering that deal back in 2008, I'm fairly certain it would not have been approved."

Sawyer cited a possible privatization deal involving Midway Airport and valued at $2 or $3 billion. Is that a good deal? Without more extensive council oversight, he said, "we don't know."

Robert Reiter, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, endorsed the ordinance, lauding its call for cost-benefit analysis and the impact on employment of any privatization deal.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said it would be complemented by an independent budget office, a proposal made by Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) that likewise is in the doldrums of the Rules Committee.

Mell held a perfunctory, minute-long meeting of the Rules Committee before Wednesday's City Council session, then left the Council Chamber abruptly after the meeting proper.