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Plan Would End No-Bid Parking Contract

Critics Accuse Hartford Mayor Of Not Moving Quickly Enough

February 24, 2007
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer

Mayor Eddie A. Perez took further steps Friday toward rescinding a potentially lucrative no-bid contract he gave to a political powerbroker from the city's North End.

Perez has faced intense political pressure to void the contract he gave to Abraham L. Giles, a former state representative, to run a downtown parking lot. Before Perez gave Giles the no-bid deal, the city's own parking authority had expressed interest in the lot. And while Perez said his latest efforts are intended ultimately to have the contract taken from Giles and put out to bid, his critics say he is not moving fast enough.

On Friday, Perez asked the city council to consider a proposal by the city's parking authority to take over the Main Street lot and solicit new bids for the contract. He also asked the city council to approve an ordinance drafted by his office that would give the council power to reject deals like that given to Giles.

"This is to set clear standards," Perez said regarding the proposed change in the law. "Standards we all agree on."

But Perez's critics say his latest steps to fix what they describe as a dirty deal have come too slowly. Anything short of immediately canceling the deal with Giles, they said, is unsatisfactory.

Perez's proposed ordinance change would give the city council the power to "approve or reject" any license agreements longer than 90 days in length, such as the 18-month deal given to Giles.

License agreements - which do not require city council approval or a bidding process - are used frequently by the city to give it flexibility in allowing people access to city-owned property on a short-term basis. For example, an agreement would be drafted for a developer to perform environmental testing or land surveys on property that the developer may purchase, city officials said.

In the Giles deal, Perez said the agreement was designed to keep parking operations going while ensuring the city the flexibility to develop the 3-acre property and adjacent sites if a developer was interested. The city can exit the deal with Giles on 30 days' notice, Perez said.

The city's chief operating officer, Lee Erdmann, also sent a letter to the city's parking authority Wednesday asking James Kopencey, the authority's executive director, to prepare a proposal for management of the parking lot to be submitted to the council for its approval.

The authority submitted the proposal to Perez late Friday.

In a letter to Erdmann, Kopencey said the parking authority believed it could "improve the overall look, security and generate more income than the current operation" on the lot. He also said the authority could ensure the city access for development within 30 days.

The authority proposed an "open bid process that would include all parking management companies, including minority and city owned business," Kopencey wrote. He said the authority would award the contract to the lowest qualified bidder and would require any bidder to follow all city laws, including the city's living wage ordinance.

Kopencey also said the parking authority had observed the lot in the past few weeks, seeing about 97 cars parked in the 225-space lot a day, as well as cars using the lot during special events. The lot is in poor condition, he said, with broken fences, lights and guardrails as well as plenty of debris sitting on the property. To clean and fix the lot would cost an estimated $350,000, Kopencey said.

All told, he said, the lot could generate about $150,000 in gross income a year. But to run the parking lot correctly would also increase operating costs - meaning the lot would be properly staffed, well lit at night, swept, line-striped and insured. The total expenses could reach $115,000 a year, leaving a net profit of $35,000 annually.

The council is expected to take up both the authority's proposal and the new ordinance at its regular meeting Monday. City Council President John Bazzano said he sees the latest moves by Perez as "a step in the right direction."

"That is what I thought should have happened from the beginning," Bazzano said. "All license agreements should come before the council, just to have another set of eyes on them."

As for the proposal by the parking authority, Bazzano said the mayor's intent is to "use the parking authority for their purpose, to manage city-owned parking lots and generate as much income as possible for the city of Hartford."

But state Rep. Art Feltman, who is running for mayor against Perez, called the mayor's latest moves "an end run around the issue."

"He should cancel the contract that he entered into illegally - right now," Feltman said. "He doesn't need anyone's permission to do that."

The agreement - signed by Perez and Giles on Nov. 1, 2006 - gave Giles the right to run the 225-space parking lot for $1,000 a month in rent. The city does not get any of the parking proceeds from the lot. Giles was given the contract to run the lot at Main and Trumbull streets even though the city's own parking authority months earlier had expressed interest in managing the lot.

The existence of the agreement, revealed by The Courant on Feb. 3, prompted criticism from city council members and anger from the mayor's rivals, who said the deal was a perfect example of political patronage.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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