By David Pendered
Common Cause of Georgia today called on the Atlanta City Council to slow down the consideration of the multi-billion dollar airport concessions deal it is slated to consider Jan. 3.
“We hope the selection of proposed contractors has been a fair and impartial process”, said William Perry, executive director of Common Cause Georgia. “Unfortunately it has not been transparent enough for anyone to know if it has indeed been fair and impartial.”
Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration delivered the proposed deal to the homes of members of the council’s Transportation Committee the night of Dec. 13. Airport General Manager Louis Miller told the committee the next day that he could arrange private briefings with council members to answer any questions.
The committee approved the paper Dec. 14. The council started its previously scheduled two week recess at the close of business Dec. 16 and its first official day back at work is Jan. 3 – the day it is to consider the largest concession deal in the history of North American airports and, most likely, new boundaries for the council’s 12 districts.
Common Cause of Georgia raised seven points in the statement released this morning. The full statement can be found here.
Here are the seven points:
1) Why is there a “Cause for Pause”?
This is a multi-billion dollar contracting process and Atlantans deserve to know if it has been conducted fairly and impartially. Many questions are being raised about those who made the decisions, as well as the relationships with the proposed winners. The city council, as the only check in the system outside the mayor’s office, needs to take the time to understand and examine the process before voting on the recommendations. Unless they hear from enough of us, on January 3 the Council will likely rubber-stamp the recommended contracts without a thorough examination of the process. That would make January 3 the only day the public will have a chance to comment.
2) Why does CCGA think there is a “rush to judgment”?
The council’s Transportation Committee members received the package of proposed contract winners couriered to their doors shortly before midnight for a 10 a.m. vote the next day (Dec. 14). This was just two days before the council’s holiday recess. The committee then approved the contracts for a full council vote that will take place the first day after their recess ends (and the day after the observation of a federal holiday). That leaves only three Council business days to consider the largest airport concession selection process in North American aviation history. This timeframe does not allow the council to conduct a work session or thoroughly examine the process. Further, it allows very little time for public comment. This timing alone shows there is a rush to judgment.
3) What should the Atlanta City Council do?
They should delay the Jan. 3 vote to approve the winning bids. This would allow the Council the time necessary to hold a work session and further examine the contract bidding process, and allow more time for public input. The council could delay the vote until their Feb. 6 or even Jan. 17 meeting. Surely a two- to four-week delay is justified to make sure a multi-billion dollar decision is made fairly and impartially.
4) If the vote is delayed, won’t the opening of concessions at the new international terminal get delayed as well, costing the city millions of dollars in lost revenue?
No. There are at least two options that could avoid the loss of revenue. First, temporary concession locations could be used if an extra two or four weeks actually do indeed delay the opening of the permanent locations. If this is not possible, the council could separate the contract packages and approve those for the international terminal only. This would allow the council and the public more time to consider those for all other concourses and the airport atrium (which is the large majority of the overall packages). All areas besides the international terminal have current rent-paying tenants, so there would no loss of revenue.
5) City officials claim this process has been “transparent.” Has it?
No. As one member of the city council pointed out at the Transportation Committee meeting, information such as the scores given to bidders by the evaluators that have been made available to the public in the past are not being made available now. Further, in June the mayor’s office released a statement that said “The names of the evaluation members, once finalized, will be released to the public.” The names of the evaluation members were finalized in late June, however, the names have not yet been released. City officials have said the names will not be released until after the council votes to approve the contracts, which is essentially the last step before the mayor signs the contracts. The city’s law department is using “open records” law exceptions as the excuse for this information to be withheld from the public. Even though it may be exempt by state law, the city could choose to release all this information in order to make the process transparent.
6) If the names of the evaluation panel members were released, wouldn’t they get lobbied by contract bidders?
No. The city’s own rules designate only one person that bidders may contact during the process. Bidders are “strictly prohibited from contacting any other city employees or any third-party representatives of the city on any matter having to do with this RFP.”
7) Mayor Reed has said, “Those who continue to bring up references to corruption and cronyism should have the character and integrity to back up their allegations, or refrain from smearing the reputations of the dedicated employees who manage and work at what is arguably the most successful airport in the nation. It’s time to stop resurrecting the past and instead, focus on the present and the future.” Should Common Cause Georgia follow this advice?
We have never accused the mayor nor anyone in his administration or anyone working at the airport of corruption. We are simply mindful of the past corruption surrounding airport leases that have resulted in indictments, litigation and prison time for former officials. All these historical precedents make us especially cautious and, in our view, warrant greater transparency. We believe this is a moment where the mayor can close the door on the city’s checkered past, and launch Atlanta into a new day of ethics and openness.