Playing the tough guy protecting taxpayers' money, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday accused the company that's leasing Chicago parking meters of failing to document a $14 million bill for parking spaces taken out of service by the city.
On the day the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed the latest dispute between City Hall and Chicago Parking Meters LLC, the mayor sounded a bit like Clint Eastwood playing Harry Callahan as he explained his refusal to pay the bill.
"Just because you send a bill, I'm not gonna ask taxpayers to pay it. There's a new day here. I don't know who they think they're dealing with," he said.
"First of all, I'm not gonna do it. Second of all, you owe information to justify it. And I don't even think the information when you're providing it is accurate. So I sent 'em a letter back. And let me say this: In the envelope wasn't a check because I'm not doing it. We are not, just because you send a bill in, assuming I'm gonna have the taxpayers fork over money. They may assume that was how it was gonna work. But they've got another thing coming."
The Sun-Times reported Friday that private investors who paid $1.15 billion to lease Chicago's 36,000 parking meters are demanding $14 million — on top of their higher-than-expected revenues — as compensation for metered spaces taken out of service last year because of street repairs, festivals and other city-sponsored events.
That brings the company's disputed demand for compensation from Chicago taxpayers to $27.5 million. The Emanuel administration is already in arbitration over the company's earlier claim for $13.5 million in compensation for drivers who used — and sometimes misused — disability placards and license plates to park for free in 2010.
Yet another costly demand for compensation is expected to follow the May 20-21 NATO summit that will take scores of metered downtown spaces out of service to accommodate temporary street closings and a large security perimeter established by the U.S. Secret Service.
The parking meter lease requires the city to compensate the concessionaire — at the newly increased downtown rate of $5.75 an hour — whenever metered spaces are temporarily taken out of service.
But Emanuel said, "They got a letter back that clearly defines what their responsibilities are. And they have not been holding up their side. So I'm not sending them the money."
An April 5 letter from Lois Scott, Emanuel's chief financial officer, to Chicago Parking Meters chief executive officer Dennis Pedrelli blasted the way the company calculated adjustments last year. Scott branded company invoices "legally and factually erroneous." And she argued that City Hall — not the company — should be determining compensation for metered spaces taken out of service.
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley's administration allowed the company to determine its own compensation.
Daley, his corporation counsel and two top press aides subsequently joined a Chicago law firm that took in $822,760 in legal fees from City Hall in Daley-engineered deals that privatized the Chicago Skyway, the city's downtown parking garages and Chicago's parking meters.