What if, to turn the screws on the private parking meter company that has Chicago in a vise of its own, the city imposed an exorbitant, crippling tax on parking meter revenues?
It was an idea submitted by one of my readers, and I put it to the city's top lawyer, Corporation Counsel Steve Patton, and the city's chief financial officer, Lois Scott, when they visited the Tribune on Thursday afternoon.
They'd come to talk "turkey," the noun Patton applied to the 75-year parking meter privatization deal of late 2008 that Mayor Rahm Emanuel inherited and that he's now attempting to tweak in ways Patton and Scott insist will advantage the beleaguered citizenry.
We can't simply undo it — the city has already spent the $1.15 billion proceeds — but what about squeezing the company until it begs to quit the deal?
"We can't do that," said Patton. "We can't do that either, if we do something that would diminish their ..."
"... if it disproportionately affects them," continued Scott. "Unfortunately we can't."
A colleague asked, what about pulling city ticket writers off the streets and signaling to drivers that they could stop feeding the meters without fear of punishment? That would dry up meter revenues very quickly.
"We have to maintain the level of enforcement that existed at the time they took over," said Patton, referring to a clause in the contract. Further, since the city gets all parking ticket revenue, both sides would be harmed.
"We may have missed something," Patton said in a way that suggested they'd looked for every devious, out-of-the-box way of killing the turkey and come up empty. "But, you know, there would have been tremendous hero potential for anyone who could come up with (a way out) and it would be a wonderful thing if we could do it."
But alas. The team that negotiated the deal for Chicago Parking Meters LLC the first time around left no loopholes lying around or escape hatches unguarded, so the best the city can do now is negotiate for a few alterations and adjustments — changes Patton and Scott are trying to sell to the City Council and spent an hour trying to sell to the Tribune editorial board.
My bottom line: Whatever. The city clearly negotiated hard and with open eyes this time, so I'm confident that the proposed alterations — free Sunday parking in the neighborhoods in exchange for extended meter hours in certain areas, and so on — won't make the bad deal much worse.
But given the care with which the other side scrutinized the original deal, I'm equally confident the alterations aren't a bad deal for them. It looks like a wash, a washed turkey, one we'll be feeding for 71 more years.
Burn and learn
Chuck Betzold, the man I once christened "Geoffrey Baer in spongy shoes," will kick off this year's series of "historical fun runs" Sunday morning with a jogging tour of Bridgeport and the Illinois and Michigan Canal.
Betzold, a Tribune artist by day, is a veteran marathoner and history buff who began combining his passions and leading these tours a dozen years ago at the urging of friends. The pace is so moderate — a bit slower than 10 minutes a mile when I went on one of his tours in my distance-running days — and the stops for minilectures so frequent that casual runners will have no trouble keeping up over the 3- to 4-mile routes.
Runners meet at 8 a.m. at the Fleet Feet store at 1620 N. Wells St. Fare for the shuttle bus to the tour area and back is $5.
Other runs this summer are:
July 7: The Chicago River and lakefront in the downtown area.
Aug. 4: Lincoln Park and the Old Municipal Cemetery.
Sept. 8: Beyond the Old Indian Boundary Line along the Chicago River.
Oct. 6: Riverview.
Nov. 3: Lincoln Square, Bowmanville and Rosehill Cemetery.
The last three runs will begin at Fleet Feet's Lincoln Square store, 4762 N. Lincoln Ave. Reservations suggested: fleetfeetchicago.com
A gentleman's disagreement
Both our story and the Sun-Times' story about a fatal shooting last Sunday on the Near North Side identified the victim as the manager of a gentleman's club. No ironic quotation marks, no dutiful aside reminding readers that these are establishments where women take off their clothes as they dance.
My thought: Really? With all due respect to the deceased, has the rebranding of strip clubs been so successful in the last two decades that we now take at face value the assertion that their clientele qualify as "gentlemen"?
I took this up with our style mavens, and received this reassuring reply from a senior copy editor: "Our job is to communicate clearly, not to lend a false air of respectability," he wrote. "I generally change 'gaming' to 'gambling' outside of formal names (the Illinois Gaming Board) and quotes, to give another example." The editor continued, "There can be differences of opinion on these things; is 'strip joint' a good substitute for 'gentlemen's club'? And of course, sometimes they just slip through."