Tag Archives: parking

Park It

Mayor Ballard’s proposal to privatize the city’s parking continues to spark bipartisan concern. Last week, the Sunday Star ran a “point-counterpoint” between Deputy Mayor Michael Huber, the proposal’s architect, and Aaron Renn, a respected urban affairs expert who has criticized it. Star editor Dennis Ryerson noted that many open questions should be answered before the City-County Council makes a final decision.

What are those questions?

Why would any city turn over an important part of its infrastructure to any private company for fifty years? Even if the deal were less one-sided fiscally, decisions about where to place meters, how to price them, what lengths of time to allow and so on have an enormous impact on local businesses and residential neighborhoods. They are decisions requiring flexibility in the face of changing circumstances; they are most definitely not decisions that should be held hostage to contracting provisions aimed at protecting a vendor’s profits.

Why would we enter into a contract that will add significantly to the costs of downtown development? Indianapolis has worked hard to encourage construction of hotels, retail establishments and residential units in our urban core. Often, that construction interrupts adjacent parking. Now, the city can choose to ignore that loss of parking revenue, or to charge the developer, based upon the City’s best interests. This contract requires that ACS be paid whenever such interruptions occur. It has been estimated that such a provision would have added over two million dollars to the cost of the current legs of the Cultural Trail.

Why ACS? Much has been written about the problems with Chicago’s parking privatization, but far less about ACS’ track record in places like Washington, D.C., where an audit documented mismanagement, overcharging, over-counting of meters, and the issuance of bogus tickets (ACS gets all the revenue for tickets). Washington lost $8,823,447 in revenue and experienced a twenty-fold increase in complaints from the public. And it wasn’t just D.C. Police officers in Edmonton, Canada, were tried for accepting bribes from ACS, and a few years ago, the company’s CEO and CFO stepped down after admitting to $51 million in stock fraud. Why enter into such a disadvantageous deal for so long a term with a company having so troubling a track record?

One of the problems with privatization in general, as we learned during the Goldsmith administration, is that it leads to speculation about cronyism and political back-scratching. In this case, the Mayor’s personal advisor is a registered lobbyist for ACS through Barnes and Thornburg, the same law firm that employs the President of the City-County Council. Whatever the facts of the situation, those relationships raise an appearance of impropriety.

Finally, why not simply retain control of our infrastructure, and issue revenue bonds for the necessary improvements? Interest rates are at a historic low, making it an excellent time to do so. If this administration simply can’t manage parking, create a Municipal Parking Authority, as Councilor Jackie Nytes has suggested.

However we proceed, we should park this proposal. Permanently.

Woe is Mayor

These are rough days to be a mayor. If you don’t believe me, look at just two of the issues bedeviling Mayor Ballard right now: police and parking.

In both cases, the Mayor has correctly identified a problem. But in both cases, there are substantial questions about his chosen solutions.

Managing the police is a perennial problem for mayors. Controlling crime and keeping citizens safe is an essential foundation for all the other things a mayor must do. It is no exaggeration to suggest that economic development, service delivery and a city’s quality of life all depend upon the safety of its citizens.

Given the importance of public safety, it’s understandable that Ballard wanted to control IMPD. When he assumed office and wrested control from Sheriff Frank Anderson, he made clear his belief that the Mayor should be the one held accountable for the department’s performance.

Those of us who disagreed pointed out that, in Indiana, the Sheriff is a constitutional office. Unlike the Director of Public Safety, he is elected by and answerable to the voters. Unlike mayors, who have multiple responsibilities, a Sheriffs’ duties and focus all involve law enforcement. If the Sheriff has responsibility for police behavior and public safety, and scandals erupt, voters can express their disapproval quite clearly at the ballot box. If the Mayor controls IMPD, voters must balance approval or disapproval of his public safety performance against their approval or disapproval of other initiatives, sending an inevitably mixed signal.      

The Mayor’s current policing woes stem from that decision to seize control early in his term. Both that decision and his current proposal to privatize parking enforcement will hamstring future mayors as well.

Once again, the Mayor has identified a legitimate issue. Our parking meters are old and outdated; our parking fees have not been raised in many years. It is time to take a holistic look at all aspects of downtown parking—revenue to the city, the effect on downtown businesses, the placement of meters and so on. None of the solutions identified for existing problems, however, requires the City to give a private company control of our parking decisions—and a significant portion of our parking revenues—for fifty years.

As several people have pointed out, had a contract of this sort been in effect a few years ago, the City would not have been able to give permission to build the Cultural Trail. 

The Mayor’s office defends the proposed privatization by pointing to the large capital outlay needed for new equipment, but the City could easily issue a twenty-year revenue bond for that purpose, and keep both control and all revenues in excess of those needed for bond repayment.

One of the most significant leadership challenges mayors face is deciding when to keep control of a public service and when to vest that control elsewhere. These are structural decisions, and they are especially consequential because they tie the hands of future administrations.

They are ultimately the decisions that determine a Mayor’s legacy.