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Editorial: The best the city can get on parking

Mayor Rahm Emanuel  |  Sun-Times files

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | Sun-Times files

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Updated: July 6, 2013 6:29AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s very own pit bull, was the right guy to go after the parking meter company that has motorists in a vice grip for the next 71 years.

His team has fought back at every turn, refusing to hand over an extra nickel to the meter company. The heart of the dispute — and of a negotiated settlement up for a vote by the City Council Wednesday — is over how much the city owes the company for parking spaces sidelined because of construction, special events and the like.

Not only did the mayor and his team get $41 million knocked off the bill for 2011 and 2012, they also negotiated a formula that could save the city up to $1 billion over the life of the contract.

This looks like a genuine victory, though Mayor Richard M. Daley’s lemon of a gift to Chicago could be sweetened only so much. The parking meter company could not be forced to reopen the contract, yet Emanuel all but shamed the company into doing so.

The aldermen really have to ask themselves just one question before they vote: Is this the best we can do?

We believe it is, even as we have our doubts about the swap Emanuel’s team layered on top of the deal. They negotiated free neighborhood parking on Sundays in exchange for an extra hour of nighttime payment where meters end at 9 p.m. and three extra hours in River North. It’s not clear that’s a net gain.

That said, we buy the mayor’s argument that reopening the deal could kill it.

The City Council should sign off on it, but try a little arm twisting of its own. Emanuel should seriously consider a proposed ordinance to create an independent budget office for the Council. Most aldermen lack expertise to analyze complex financial deals and are outmanned by the mayor’s office.

Emanuel tells us he’s looking at ways to provide independent expertise to the Council’s budget committee, but more is needed if the council is to go toe-to-toe with the mayor’s office. His staff provided multiple briefings over the last month, but always on their terms, using their numbers and analysis.

As solid as those numbers look, a second and more independent review would have been reassuring.

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