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Editorial: Some good finally comes from dumb parking meter deal

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Every time we have to put too much money into too many parking meters at too many odd times of the day, we silently curse that crummy privatization deal that never should have happened.

You remember, no doubt: City Hall in 2008 handed Chicago’s entire parking meter business to a private company for 75 years in exchange for $1.15 billion. There was no independent review to make sure it was a good deal — and it was not. Then City Hall blew through the financial windfall in no time to fill budget holes.

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So let’s give a cheer for an ordinance approved by the City Council Wednesday that should make future bone-headed deals a little less likely. It requires a 90-day review period for privatization deals, a public hearing and a City Council committee meeting, and an independent financial review to make sure the deal is in the “best interest of the city and its residents.”

In addition, according to the ordinance, ten percent of the funds from very big and long-term leases are to be set aside in an intergenerational trust fund for the benefit of future Chicagoans — a modest safeguard against another irresponsible spending spree.

Does this largely solve the problem? Of course not. This is Chicago, where a mayor can still push pretty much any dumb deal through the City Council, should he or she really want to. But it improves the likelihood that skeptics — dissident aldermen, the media, watchdog groups and you — will have the time and information necessary to ask hard questions.

Credit goes to Mayor Emanuel for fulfilling a campaign promise, and to and 6th Ward Ald. Roderick Sawyer, who introduced the ordinance. Credit goes to the Better Government Association, which helped write the ordinance and pushed it hard.

But credit goes most to the people of Chicago, who never stopped giving City Hall grief for that bad parking meter deal.

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