Critics say mayor's new parking plan looks like same old gravy train

 

When Mayor Greg Ballard announced

his office had finished its proposal for modernizing city parking, the news

elicited the expected litany of complaints:

Parking meter prices would double in

some areas; the contract would last 50 years; another public entity was being

sold into corporate stewardship.

But, for some, Mayor Ballard's pick

to lead the citywide upgrade is the most disturbing part of the plan.

If the name Affiliated Computer

Services (ACS) sounds familiar, there's a reason: ACS, a Xerox-owned company

based in Dallas, was IBM's partner in Governor Mitch Daniels' botched attempted

to privatize welfare services at the Family and Social Services Administration

(FSSA). The millions lost in taxpayer dollars notwithstanding, the FSSA deal

was a disaster for thousands who needed medicaid, food stamps and other aid

before the $1.16 billion deal was finally scuttled last year.

The mayor's parking proposal

was submitted Monday (Aug. 23) to the City-County Council, which must approve

the deal. But recent boondoggles related to ACS's operations with FSSA have

some convinced the mayor's choice is just another example of the cozy

relationship between Republican lawmakers and their corporate favorites.

Councillor Joanne Sanders,

Democratic minority leader of the City-County Council and a member of the

administration and finance committee, said she had "grave concerns" about the

deal with ACS.

"Once again, the only

preferred vendors, as I see it, that this administration chooses are those that

are well entrenched with the Republican Party, either at the state or local

level," Sanders said. "And I have to ask myself, are they selling off all our

assets while they can to ensure that they get the benefit from it in the long

run?"

ACS was in charge of call centers

during the IBM-FSSA partnership and of compiling data on welfare eligibility

among other things. But before long, inefficiencies the privatization was

supposed to ameliorate just got worse.

The percentage of mishandled food

stamp cases shot up – from 4.38 percent in January of 2007 to 18.2

percent in January 2009. Reports surfaced that disabled Hoosiers were going

without benefits. Class action lawsuits were filed. In recent months, the

federal government even fined the state for bungling aid to so many.

Daniels ultimately killed the

IBM-led deal in 2009 once it became clear his experiment in welfare

privatization had collapsed. IBM was fired, and the governor moved forward with

what it called a "hybrid" system in ten Indiana counties: part public, part private,

with ACS left in place to provide most of

the staffing.

Given the company's past failings, the mayor's

decision to go with ACS on the parking revamp has opponents like Sanders

wondering what – other than pure cronyism – could have driven the

mayor's decision.

The common denominator

At the time of the IBM deal, Mitch

Roob was the common denominator between the government and ACS. A former

high-level executive at ACS, Roob was selected by Daniels to head the FSSA at

the time the no-bid deal went down. Common wisdom among the governor's

opponents was that Roob was greasing the wheels for his former associates.

After

leaving the FSSA, Roob took over the Indiana Ecomonic Development Corporation

(IEDC). Roob held the position when the Daniels administration decided to fire

IBM and keep ACS – a move that raised more than a few eyebrows around the

statehouse.

The decision to keep ACS drew

criticism from both sides of the aisle. Gail Riecken D-Evansville, told the Evansville

Courier Press in 2009 she was not

happy with the decision to keep ACS in the fold. "There is no point in allowing

these kinds of mistakes to continue," she said. "And we should not tolerate any

involvement by entities that have a spotty track record."

Even some Republican

lawmakers agreed. In a report by the Associated Press, Suzanne Crouch (R-Evansville) said many legislators

were suspicious of the ACS relationship. "People are uncomfortable that ACS is

still in place and that they were brought on board by former Secretary Roob,"

she said.

State assembly members promised last

October to scrutinize ACS carefully, but little has materialized. Roob,

meanwhile, still holds his position at the IEDC today, though a spokesperson for Roob insists the agency was not

involved in helping devise the parking plan or in the selection of ACS.

Dubiousness seems to follow Roob

wherever he goes. Last spring, an investigation by WTHR, the local NBC

affiliate, discovered that the IEDC was padding its job creation numbers with

jobs that were promised, but never materialized. WTHR estimated that

"approximately 40,000 jobs promoted by the state have not materialized years

after they were announced."

Roob said he could not

back up his agency's jobs statistics with specific details. "We don't share it

with the public.," he told WTHR. "That's confidential information."

As for ACS, its troubles

across the years are myriad and well-documented. In 2006, a backup data tape

was stolen from ACS, exposing credit card numbers used in transactions at

Denver International Airport, according to a report by the Rocky Mountain

News.

That same year, a desktop

computer containing the names and Social Security numbers of as many as 1.4

million people was stolen from an ACS office in Colorado, where the company

processed child-support payments for the state.

Scandal rocked the company in

2006, when its chief executive and chief financial officers were forced to

resign after corrupt stock option practices within company leadership came to

light.

A 'good reputation'

The Ballard administration

maintains there was nothing improper about the selection process for the

parking deal, which officials emphasize will affect less than 30 percent of pay parking

in Indianapolis if approved.

Michael Huber, the city's

deputy mayor for economic development, explained that ACS' upgrade proposal was

chosen from among 16

bids, made by companies from around the state, around the country, and around

the world.

ACS, he

said, was simply the most qualified.

"We looked at the number of

cities that they had served before, and their operating history in those cities

of running the parking systems, and (ACS) had a really solid operating

history," Huber said.

When asked about ACS's

history with the IBM and the FSSA – and whether or not it was a concern

for the Mayor – Huber admitted it was a "fair question," but that ACS had

a "good reputation" with regard to building and administering parking systems,

specifically.

The company has already

handled parking in a number of major cities, he noted, including San Fransicso,

Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D.C.

"They had the most

competitive financial proposal, according to our calculations," Huber added. As

it stands now, the deal would boost city coffers by $35 million up front, with

additional shared revenues over time, all of which will go toward

infrastructure improvements. The deal is also projected to save the city $40

million in operating expenses, and includes other local and women- and

minority-owned businesses. (For more details, see the city's parking proposal

Web site, www.indygov.org/parking.)

Chris Gilligan, corporate

communications manager for ACS, pointed to the technology the company offered

as part of its proposal. That will almost certainly include electronic,

multi-space meters that accept credit or debit cards, and may incorporate

things like solar and pay-by-phone technology.

Like Huber, Gilligan noted

the company's long and broad history of municipal parking management.

ACS has been in the parking

business for over 25 years, serving 24 cities and 18 airports in the United

States, along with several international clients. "Our plan is simply to

improve traffic flow and modernize the city's parking capabilities," Gilligan

said.

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