A lawsuit filed by a Chicago-area citizens group seeking to void the city’s controversial $1.12 billion 75-year lease of its parking meter system survived its first challenge last week when a Cook County judge found reasonable grounds to allow the complaint to be filed.
Judge Richard Billik granted leave to allow the suit’s filing in an order issued last week. The governments of Chicago and Illinois, which are representing city and state officials named as defendants in the suit, believe it is without merit.
The Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court last month. It is being represented by Clint Krislov of Krislov & Associates Ltd.
The complaint alleges that the lease agreement with a consortium known as Chicago Parking Meters LLC “unconstitutionally obligates the city to expend public funds in order to police, enforce and maintain the privately held and privately controlled parking meter system.”
The group contends the city is violating state law that requires that public funds, property, or credit be used solely for public purposes. The suit also argues that the lease is illegal because the meters are located on the public way, which under law is not transferable, and that the term is excessive and illegally curtails future City Council powers to regulate the system.
Chicago early this year closed on the transaction and has spent a chunk of the funds to help balance its 2008 and 2009 budgets. The city will drain the $325 million fund of its remaining $50 million to help whittle down what would otherwise have been a looming $570 million deficit next year. Officials put about $400 million into a reserve with the interest earnings earmarked to replace revenues annually generated by the system previously.
The meter lease has come under fire from the public and City Council members, who rushed through approval of the lease at Mayor Richard Daley’s urging, as the new operators were overwhelmed initially in managing the system, facing complaints of broken and overstuffed meters and confusing pricing information.