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Brown: Get a second opinion on parking meter proposal

Updated: June 13, 2013 7:03PM

Two dozen aldermen pledged allegiance to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s revamped parking meter deal on Thursday — barely 24 hours after receiving a thick stack of documents setting forth the actual agreement.

Are they nuts or what?

Mind you, this 24-hour period was their first opportunity to READ the agreement and maybe analyze it a little for themselves, as opposed to accepting the representations of the Emanuel administration wholesale.

This is the same way of doing business that got them in trouble in the first place. In fact, many of the 24 are the same aldermen who helped Mayor Richard M. Daley ram through the original parking meter deal.

Obviously, these aldermen have not read the agreement, and in truth, most of them never will. That’s not the end of the world because these are complicated legal documents, and most of them would just get more confused.

But at least you might have hoped they could have paused for a week while waiting for their other colleagues — or staffers — to read it for them and report back with any concerns.

The aldermen who took the unusual step of allowing their names to be used to publicly endorse the Emanuel deal would tell you they were only showing approval of his plan to provide free Sunday parking for their neighborhoods and are reserving judgment on the rest of it.

Then why not keep their powder dry, given that the mayor says his fixes to the Daley deal must rise or fall in their entirety?

The answer seems to be that somebody in Emanuel’s world wanted to stifle brewing opposition led by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), whose downtown constituents will not only get no free parking on Sunday but bear the brunt of the extended night parking hours that was the trade-off to pay for it.

Admittedly, whether or not to support free Sunday parking is mostly a political consideration not necessarily requiring any great numbers-crunching on the aldermen’s part. Are the voters in their ward more likely to believe themselves helped or hurt by the mayor’s proposed swap?

With the vast majority of the metered parking spaces in the city located in maybe four or five wards, the answer is simple for most of them. They’ll take the free Sunday parking, which is bound to have a certain populist appeal.

What I find especially odd about the Gang of 24’s endorsement is that the mayor has been making a big deal of the fact he is giving the City Council 30 days to consider his amended parking meter contract as opposed to the measly three days Daley allowed for the original debacle.

Then he turns around and gives them one day to pledge their support.

In an apparent effort to distance the mayor from the nonsense, his office enlisted Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) to announce the list of supporters.

The mayor intends to seek approval of the amended parking meter agreement at the June 5 council meeting (which is actually 28 days of lead time, not 30, but who’s counting.) The mayor’s team began briefing aldermen on the agreement a week before releasing the documents.

I’ve certainly found nothing objectionable so far in the deal itself. I’ve tried to read through the material, and it’s not as if anything jumps out at me as a major omission from the mayoral briefings.

But just like the aldermen who were stung by the original deal, it seems like those of us in the press should continue to preach due diligence here.

Two aldermen who have read the agreement — Ameya Pawar (47th) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) — say they have concerns.

Pawar questions the financial structure of the convenience fee to be charged for the new pay-by-cellphone option. Waguespack worries the deal gives Chicago Parking Meters LLC another windfall with the longer night parking hours (Emanuel says the city comes out ahead by $1 million a year with the free Sunday parking trade-off.)

Pawar and Waguespack argue the City Council needs an independent analysis of the agreement by someone other than the mayor’s staff.

Both are among a group of aldermen who have sought to create an Office of Independent Budget Analysis within the City Council, but Waguespack said what’s needed right now is to send the parking meter deal to the city’s inspector general for an immediate review.

“This might be a really, really good deal, but what’s wrong with a second opinion?” Waguespack said.

A second opinion makes a lot of sense.

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