Atlanta airport concessions woes: City Council meets with mayor in executive session, opts to do nothing

By David Pendered

The troubled concessions contracts at Atlanta’s airport caused the Atlanta City Council to convene in a special meeting Monday and conduct most of it behind closed doors.

After meeting in executive session with Mayor Kasim Reed, the city attorney, and at least one other official, the council emerged into public and voted to not intervene in the airport concessions contracts. The council had considered asking that current vendors remain in place for up to 90 days.

At issue is a letter Reed’s administration received April 26 from the Federal Aviation Authority. The FAA contends some vendors hired for the airport concessions program do not qualify as disadvantaged businesses, the category under which they were selected.

City officials have been quoted as saying that any problems with the companies’ qualifications are the responsibility of the Georgia Department of Transportation and MARTA, two entities whose qualifications programs are accepted by other governmental entitites.

Councilperson Michael Bond said he was gravely concerned about the allegations in the FAA letter because they could tarnish a major hallmark of Atlanta’s government: Opportunity for small businesses to compete for big public jobs. The letter also highlights a lack of communication from Reed’s administration to the council, he said.

“The resolution (considered Monday) became necessary because the council was not involved nor informed about the various cases and situations around the airport,” Bond said. “There is question raised in the letter from the FAA that, even though we have imported that part of certification of vendors from outside the (city government), it has implications on the DBE (disadvantaged business enterprise) program.”

This is a snippet of the special call for the council to convene Monday at 4 p.m. The meeting ended shortly after 6 p.m.:

“To discuss potential litigation, pending legal matters and A RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING THE CHIEF PROCUREMENT OFFICER TO ADMINISTRATIVELY EXTEND CONTRACTS FOR FOOD AND BEVERAGE CONCESSIONS UNDER THE CURRENT TERMS AT HARTSFIELD JACKSON ATLANTA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT FOR A PERIOD OF NINETY (90) DAYS TO ASSURE UNINTERRUPTED CONCESSION SERVICES WHILE NEW CONCESSION CONTRACTS ARE BEING EXECUTED; AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.”

The council’s official action was to file the resolution by a vote of 9-2, which amounts to dismissing the matter for good.

The FAA correspondence is the latest in a litany of problems to arise from Reed’s effort to rebid all the food and beverage contracts at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Monday’s meeting, like much of the concessions contracting process, had a rushed sense about it.

Councilperson Felicia Moore said she understood that some vendors are supposed to begin moving out of their locations at the airport on Monday at midnight, which created the deadline that forced the council’s special meeting.

Previously, Reed’s administration pressed the council to vote Jan. 3 on the vendors chosen by the administration. Several councilmembers requested more time to discuss the program and meet in public with airport officials. The administration said a vote was crucial so the process of signing contracts could begin.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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