A couple of years ago I got a call from some merchants near Wrigley Field who were up in arms because the city had banned parking on Clark Street during Cubs games.
There was no place for their customers to park, they said. Sales were down. No one had consulted them–did the city want to put merchants out of business?
After I wrote a story I got an irate letter from the leader of the local chamber of commerce, whose members included the merchants I had quoted. Was she mad at the city for making life difficult for her members? Not at all. She was mad at her members for criticizing the local alderman, Tom Tunney. I suggested that she’s supposed to serve the interests of her dues paying members–not the alderman.
Anyway, I thought about that chamber leader as I read today’s Sun-Times story about the proposal by aldermen John Pope and Anthony Beale to give security guards the right to write tickets. The security guards, like the chamber leader, are paid with funds generated from Special Service Area districts, which are like mini-TIFs. They’re set up by the local alderman in conjunction with the mayor in order to pay for additional local services, like street cleaning or security guards, by slapping an extra tax on local property owners.
I have a lot of issues with SSAs–not the least of which is that we should be already getting these services from the so-called normal property taxes we pay. But I also see them as a source of off-the-books patronage. Like the chamber of commerce leader from Lakeview, folks hired with SSA funds tend to look out for the people who got them their jobs. The last thing they need is additional police powers.