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Alderman Tom Allen formally proposed an ordinance today that would require a 30-day waiting period between the time the sale of a public asset is proposed to the City Council and the time it’s called for a vote.
That’s ten times longer than the council took to sign off on privatizing the city’s parking meters, and about three times longer than it had to review the Midway Airport lease deal, which recently fell through when the private investors couldn’t come up with the cash they’d pledged.
At least 42 aldermen have signed on to Allen’s proposal already.
The seemingly robust support is no guarantee it will go anywhere—in the Chicago City Council, it’s not unheard of for more aldermen to sponsor an ordinance when it’s proposed than to vote for it when they’re standing in front of the mayor.
Still, this appears to be yet another example of the seller’s remorse that’s spread through the council the last few weeks, culminating in multiple calls for hearings into the parking meter agreement and greater transparency in the city budget and spending process.
It’s an impressive display of the independence and responsibility that was absent during the last three months of 2008, when in a few weeks the council signed off on the two lease deals and the Daley administration’s 2009 budget, which was “balanced” on overly optimistic revenue projections and outright guesses.
Allen said today that aldermen need the weight of city ordinance to slow down some of the administration’s financial plans. “This will give a cue to the administration that they need to change the way they present these once-in-a-lifetime asset sales.”
Last fall, he said, the council was under pressure to do something to fill holes in the city’s budget, and without funds from a lease agreement more taxes or layoffs would have been on the table.
He noted that aldermen didn’t have any better information on the lease deals than what the administration presented to them in briefings.
“How about the word ‘trust’?” he said. “I don’t think anyone in the City Council is an economic expert.”
The extra time would allow for journalists, financial experts, and other members of the public to weigh in, Allen said. “I listen to the public I represent, and when we start doing this stuff in 48 hours, and giving our assets away for three, four generations, we should have some public input. I’m saying this may be a good thing to do with other assets, but we have to do it in a different way so we’re not guilty of governmental malpractice.”
Allen didn’t deny that he’d like to have his parking meter vote over. “I’ll use a golf analogy—I think everybody here wishes they had a mulligan and could try that shot again. But it’s not just about that one thing. This is a pattern with the administration. It’s always an emergency—it’s always a crisis. When you say it all the time, it’s like a boy who cries wolf.”