Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Hairston Used Infrastructure Funds to Pay for Free Parking

posted by chicago pop

Leslie Hairston's letter to the editor of this week's Hyde Park Herald discloses a little-known fact about the Fifth Ward's magical bookkeeping: it's possible to spend aldermanic menu funds dedicated to infrastructure on non-infrastructure items like parking give-aways, while using the same money to make capital improvements on the South Shore Cultural Center!

It's a 2-for-1 deal! Impossible, but true! Vote for Leslie!

Right. Now let's take a minute to sort through just what's going on with Hairston's 2010 summer parking give-aways at the 55th and 63rd lakefront lots.

In her letter, Alderman Hairston offers an accounting of how she spent the money.

Approximately $42,000 went towards maintaining the traditionally free parking lot at 63rd St. Beach...I allocated another $52,000 towards the lot at 55th Street and South Shore Drive to cover nearby residents from June through December 2010 who traditionally park there at night.

And: "The Park District agreed the money my office paid for the meters would be used for capital projects at the South Shore Cultural Center."

As the Herald previously reported:

Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th) is touting a deal she arranged to provide 100 free parking spaces at 63rd Street beach this summer, but she is providing few details about how she is planning to pay for her largesse...

She plans to pay the Park District for its lost parking revenue out of her aldermanic menu, a $1.32 million fund given to each alderman for infrastructure improvements throughout their wards -- projects such as road resurfacing or streetlights [italics added] ...

But she declined to provide any further information about how much of her aldermanic menu she will spend on the free parking.

("Hairston gets free parking at 63rd St. Beach -- at what cost?" by Kate Hawley, Hyde Park Herald, 24 June 2009)
The Herald went on to estimate that this would cost the citizens of Chicago $77,000, a figure which HPP blogger Elizabeth Fama added to the Tribune's reported $52,000 subsidy for free overnight parking at the 55th and South Shore Drive lot, to come up with a grand total of $129,000 in one-time parking giveaways. In her letter to the editor, Hairston claims that paying for the 63rd Street lot cost $35,000 less than the Herald's estimate, or $42,000.

Even so, that still means Hairston spent $94,000 of public money on parking freebies that 1) weren't means tested, and 2) at 63rd Street, were available on a first come, first served basis -- hardly an equitable or rational form of "monetary relief."

But here we come to the most interesting thing in Hairston's letter, which is her claim, repeating the Herald's statement of June 2009, that the parking subsidies came out of funds dedicated for infrastructure.

How is a parking subsidy classifiable as an infrastructure expense?


No wonder Hairston didn't want to talk about it. It turns out, according to her letter, that the money to pay for the spots at 63rd was given to the Park District with the understanding that it be used to make repairs at the South Shore Cultural Center.

So then who paid for the spaces? Would Standard Parking, the concessionaire responsible for installing and maintaining pay boxes for the Park District, agree give Leslie a free ride for the summer, just because she has great hair? Unlikely. The best interpretation I can come up with for this rather opaque arrangement is that the Park District ate the $42,000 due to Standard Parking for 63rd Street beach, in exchange for Hariston's funding of work on the Cultural Center.

Very creative bookkeeping, indeed. But the Park District still paid for those spots, which means ultimately Chicago taxpayers gave them away with no foreseeable benefit other than helping Leslie Hairston get reelected. It still amounts to a publicly funded parking spots - for votes program.

And we haven't even mentioned the question of Hairston's use of 63rd Street as a VIP parking lot over the 2010 July 4th weekend.


Elizabeth Fama said...

I would have liked to have heard more from Leslie about the Cultural Center capital projects. What were they? When were they originally proposed? What money was supposed to pay for them before her contribution? I'm wondering, for example, if Leslie's ward money became budget-relieving for the City. That is, if the Cultural Center projects were already slated, her contribution might simply have allowed the City to redirect its own funds to another City project. If so, it's like a transfer from the City to the City, isn't it?

chicago pop said...

That's what it seems like. Shell games. Gets around that pesky requirement that menu funds be used for things that have long-term utility -- like roads and street lights -- instead of services like parking, which disappear as soon as they are consumed.

Anonymous said...

I really would like to see this printed in the Herald and see how she tries to backpedal out of it.

David Farley said...

I can't believe some money was allocated for one thing in Chicago and then spent on something else. What a scandal!

chicago pop said...

David Farley just equated Chicago with the 5th Ward. So much for that whole "Hyde Park independent politics" thing.

Richard Gill said...

To me, this is a prime example of the imperative to get re-elected. Once that takes over, elected officials stop doing their jobs. The game becomes self preservation above anything else. (That might lead one to conclude that few politicians are doing their jobs, but that's another story.) At that point, an elected official's pay is essentially stolen tax money. It has happened, devastatingly, in the US Congress, the Illinois Statehouse, and in the Chicago City Council. That's one reason I favor term limits.

To get re-elelected, a politician must please (or avoid angering) as many constituents as possible. To the great chagrin of incumbent 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston, some people were angered by the parking giveaway, other transgressions, and the lack of jobs for ward residents. And one of those people, Anne Marie Miles, decided to do something about it, by running for 5th Ward Alderman. She is a serious and dedicated contender, so much that Leslie Hairston (who won in a walk in 2007 and isn't used to real competition) did everything, and then some, to keep Ms. Miles off the ballot.

Things are changing in Chicago. Come the Spring, the Mayor's office and City Council are going to be unlike anything we have seen in 50 years. It's about time.