Last night, I attended the City-County Council's Rules and Public Policy committee meeting. The big-ticket item on last night's agenda was the ACS Parking deal and further discussion. But the most productive time I spent was the several minutes before the meeting, where I chatted with Aaron M. Renn, author of the Urbanophile blog, and Deputy Mayor Michael Huber.
After the other items were dealt with, Renn spoke to the committee first. Knowing that most of the council members have read his blog entries pertaining to the parking deal, he went through a summary of the most important points. He noted that parking meters' purpose isn't to make money, but to utilize curb side real estate in an efficient manner. He believes this contract hampers the city unnecessarily if they want to change from parking meters to an alternate function in the future, or remove them altogether, either on an individual neighborhood basis or city-wide. He believes it would be a great challenge if public transportation would become a viable option in central Indiana, or if electric car chargers would ever be needed. Or even, on a smaller scale, if a restaurant wants to expand to the curb, or if an economically depressed area wants to encourage visitors by removing meters entirely.
Some of the councilors asked that there is a high need for infrastructure funding, and what would Renn's plan be. Renn noted that he is only speaking out against this deal, and he isn't against the actual goal, just the way it's getting there. He doesn't work in city government, but noted that revenue bonds have been mentioned as possibilities, which allow the city to retain ownership, modernize parking itself, and keep profits.
I think it's important to note that while all profits from parking meters go to infrastructure in the surrounding areas where meters are placed, they are there as a supplemental revenue stream, and not a primary source of revenue for street maintenance and repair. As Renn noted himself, the $35 million received upfront is a mere fraction of what was received in the water utility privatization deal.
Afterward, Michael Huber, a deputy mayor in the Ballard administration and the architect of this deal, spoke. I'll just let you read Pat Andrews' analysis of that portion, since I couldn't stay for the whole thing.
Which brings me to my final point. These committee meetings are a huge waste of time for those of us who work during the day or in the evening. They're structured so that by the time 8pm or so roles around, everyone is ready to go get a bite to eat and doesn't want to stay that long. This usually means a very limited amount of time for public comment, which is always saved as dead last on any agenda item. It certainly doesn't help that 95% of the testimony I've seen during committee meetings is information that has been previously presented either via the city's website or in public forums. For city employees and lawyers that attend these things and get paid (and I'm guessing that the four Ice Miller attorneys at this committee meeting each billed the city for several hours, even though only one of them did about two minutes worth of talking), these things are a goldmine.
I'll still do my civic duty and keep in touch with my council representatives via e-mail and other methods of communication, but I am done attending these meetings.
The most productive time I spent during this horrid meeting were the minutes before the meeting where I talked with Deputy Mayor Michael Huber. I asked him about the rumors that the city is quietly renegotiating the deal. He told me that while he wouldn't say they're renegotiating, he said the city is very "flexible" on the deal. It's worth reminding readers that the council has full oversight of this, and can re-write the contract as they see fit. I also asked him about the lack of public meetings that have been held since the deal was announced, which is in stark contrast to the several dozen public forums held during the water/sewage utility privatization deal. He said that they aren't scheduling forums, but the city is attending events at individual organization's requests.