By David Pendered
The Atlanta City Council approved Tuesday night a $3 billion package of airport concessions.
The actual outcome was almost anti-climatic, coming as it did after almost five hours of debate. At times, the issue seemed to become a vehicle for various officials to vent their spleen over frustrations that have mounted as the selection process ground on four months longer than expected for a variety of reasons.
Mayor Kasim Reed criticized Common Cause of Georgia, which has called for greater transparency in the city’s contracting process, along with campaign finance reform.
Councilmember Ivory Lee Young asked unnamed critics to prove corruption if the critics think the council is corrupt.
Councilmember Felicia Moore couldn’t get an answer as to why the names of businesses to be awarded contracts cannot be revealed to the public now.
In the end, the council voted 12-3 at 9:35 p.m. to support the recommendations of Reed’s administration. Airport chief Louis Miller said more than 2,300 man hours went into the selection process.
The mayor is expected to sign the legislation that awards contracts to the following food and beverage concessionaires:
- Hojeij Branded Foods Inc.
- Concessions/H&H JV3
- Host + ATLchefs JV3
- DNCTHS Atlanta Partners
- Host + ATLchefs JV5
- Atlanta Restaurant Partners, LLC
- Global Concessions, Inc.
- Mack, Inc.
- Vida-Velocity Management, LLC
The following retail packages also were approved:
- LTL ATL JV, LLC
- Paradies-Atlanta II JV.
The meeting began with comments from about 17 individuals who expressed their views on the contracts. The council then entered parliamentary position that allows the entire council to act as a committee to discuss the proposal – a position that allows for more conversation than permitted during a regular meeting, and which greatly extended the length of the meeting.
That decision set the stage for the council to vote on the airport package around 9:30 p.m. and to adjourn shortly after 10 p.m.
The public comments included remarks by:
Calvin Vismale, board chair, Sevananda Natural Foods Market:
- Lost a bid but hopes to be successful next time. Thinks the airport should offer more foods for passengers who eat no animal products and those who eat raw foods.
John Sherman, board chair, Fulton County Taxpayers Association:
- Urged the council to delay a vote and review the selection process. Contended the process violated the state’s Open Meeting Law because its meetings were held in secret and minutes were not made public.
Al Bartell, advocate for small business:
- Said the selection process was rigged to favor big businesses at the expense of small businesses. Said Atlanta residents will rally to ensure future city contracts are accessible for small businesses.
Harold Bevis, vice president, public affairs, Delta:
- The selection process functioned well. Delta needs the international terminal to open on time because it’s already selling tickets for flights that would use the new terminal.
William Perry, executive director, Common Cause of Georgia:
- Urged the council to delay a vote. The selection process has not been as transparent as it is said to be.
Reed took the podium in the public area of the City Council Chambers to respond to questions and comments from Councilmember Michael Julian Bond. Bond was pressing the point of why the administration had structured the 152 airport sites into one single piece of legislation.
Reed responded that the city would be vulnerable to lawsuits if the council altered the administration’s package. Reed and Bond went back and forth a few times before Reed began a defense or explanation that lasted several minutes about the airport concessions package.
Then Reed turned his attention to media response to Common Cause’s calls for the council to slow down its review of the concessions package. He started with an editorial in a Columbus newspaper before turning to Common Cause.
“The Columbus newspaper,” Reed said. “We could finance Columbus with two months of our operations.”
Reed also linked Common Cause to a front page story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Common Cause has been bashing the City of Atlanta for the past two weeks,” Reed said. “Talk about pay to play reform. A massive front page story besmirching my character, my name and you all too.”
Later Reed said: “For God’s sake, Common Cause – which has driven the media inquiry – has so much stain on it that it stinks,” Reed said.
Reed said that William Perry, Common Cause’s executive director, had exceeded the limits on campaign contributions from individuals in campaigns he waged against Councilmember Carla Smith, and against Councilmember Kwanza Hall when Hall served on the Atlanta school board. Specifically, Reed said Perry had raised more from some individuals than would be allowed in the rules Perry now promotes.
Perry was granted a few minutes to respond, at the urging of Moore and council President Ceasar Mitchell. Perry said both his campaigns were for open seats, meaning that he was defeated by Smith and Hall in wide open campaigns. Perry said he abided by the campaign rules at the time, and does think the campaign process would be improved by tighter regulations.
After the mayor left the podium, Bond responded to Reed’s comments:
“I appreciate your comments and your passion for our city. I appreciate what you said and look forward to future discussion with the airport chief, and I appreciate your defense of our city. I had a conversation, one of many, with Maynard [Jackson, a former mayor and namesake of the new international terminal] about public service when I received my first bruising.”
Bond said Jackson advised him that politics is “one of the most beautiful career choices you can make, but also the most unforgiving.”