A downtown parking committee, which includes city staff and Doug Neumann, the president/CEO of the Downtown District, has met for some months to explore the prospects of turning some or all of the city’s downtown parking operation over to a private manager.
The committee selected from companies interested in the work, and interviewed two finalists a couple months ago. Republic Parking System, Chattanooga, Tenn., which manages parking systems in Lincoln, Neb., and Rochester, Minn., in the Midwest, is thought to be the frontrunner. Also interviewed was Ampco System Parking, Cleveland, which manages the parking at The Eastern Iowa Airport and the parkade system in Des Moines.
Part of the City Council debate tonight surely will come down to philosophy.
To his credit, the Downtown District’s Neumann has not glossed over what he says is a fact of privatization: higher-paid city employees would lose jobs and be replaced by the private manager’s employees, who would be paid less.
This clearly has not escaped the notice of council member Justin Shields, who is president of the Hawkeye Labor Council. Last month, Shields said he considered voting against hiring Greg Graham as the city’s new police chief because City Manager Jim Prosser had increased his pay above what Mike Klappholz was receiving as chief before his March retirement. Shields said he it was inconsistent to pay the chief more as the city was contemplating eliminating jobs in the city’s parking operation so less-well-paid private-sector employees could do the jobs.
“I don’t understand how that fits together,” Shields said. “If the philosophy is to cut wages,” then why raise the chief’s salary?
Council member Chuck Wieneke two weeks ago expressed displeasure that there was much discussion at City Hall about privatization of parking and he hadn’t heard anything about it.
This week, the Downtown District’s Neumann said he likely will speak to the council at its work session Wednesday evening. Neumann said he was not going to advocate for public or private, but for better parking service.
“I’m going to make it clear that the status quo is not an option,” Neumann said.
He said privatization offers many of the services, best practices and responsiveness that the downtown thinks it needs to be a “vibrant business park, entertainment center and residential center.”
“If those same marks can be met by the public sector, that’s fine,” he said. “It’s not an issue of who operates so much as it’s an issue of service levels.
“We feel – strongly – that current service levels are unacceptable.”
He said the issue is not private versus public, but private versus “much-improved public sector service.”
Nine full-time city employees, three half-time ones and a less-than-half-time one would be out city jobs if the city privatizing its entire parking operation.