Atlanta business leaders unite against Hartsfield-Jackson takeover bid

By Maria Saporta

The business community is united against a possible state takeover of the Atlanta-owned Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The Atlanta Committee for Progress (ACP)– the high-powered group of business and civic leaders that serves as a blue-ribbon sounding board for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms – is committed to helping the city maintain control of the Atlanta airport.

During the 2019 session, the state legislature considered a couple of proposals of greater state control of the airport. One bill called for an outright state takeover of Hartsfield-Jackson, and another proposal called for a state oversight committee that would scrutinize the city’s management of the airport.

Atlanta airport

A view of the new international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson airport (Special: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport)

“There is unanimity among ACP board members,” said Doug Hertz, president and CEO of United Distributing and the 2019 chair of the Atlanta Committee for Progress. “We think the whole idea is misguided.”

Hertz and Mayor Bottoms sat down for an interview after the quarterly ACP meeting on Friday, June 14 at the headquarters of United Distributing in Smyrna.

Hertz said that most of the criticism of the airport has revolved around the procurement process of concessions and contracts – mainly during the administration of former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

“What needs to be understood by state leaders is there have been a lot of changes made in the procurement system,” Hertz said. Meanwhile, the airport continues to be one of the most efficiently run airports in the country. “There has never been any justifiable reason (for the state takeover of the airport) when it comes to its operation and efficiency.”

Mayor Bottoms said she feels optimistic over the conversations she has had with the business community and state leaders.

“We will continue to work with our partners at ACP and with the state to make sure we are addressing their concerns,” Bottoms said. “It was very encouraging to hear the governor speak about the airport.”

During a talk to the Rotary Club of Atlanta, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said he was thankful “nothing happened” during the last legislative session regarding the airport.

ACP leadership

Atlanta Committee for Progress: Left to right: Doug Hertz, Shan Cooper and Larry Gellerstadt stand ready to help support Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (seated) in December 2018 (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Still Bottoms said: “We need to give the state assurances.”

Those assurances include the city’s efforts to clean up its procurement process, improve its ethical practices and making the city’s operations more transparent.

“I’m optimistic,” Bottoms said. “I look forward to us sharing more publicly what we have done and will continue to do.”

She added that the city has now added a way to track procurement bids.

Hertz said the state leaders behind the Atlanta airport takeover attempt were “more concerned about procurement.” With the help of ACP, the city hired a new chief procurement officers – David L. Wilson II.

“If people are willing to listen, they will understand that there’s a lot that’s been done,” Hertz said. “We’ve had lots of conversations about how important transparency and ethics are. And we believe the mayor has been incredibly responsive to our suggestions.”

Hertz blamed the “prior administration” for issues related to procurement – which led to a federal investigation of the airport.

“It is not of this mayor’s doing,” Hertz said. “We believe ethical business practices and transparency is what people want to see. We are really happy about the things that have been done. I’m not so sure the public knows about that and that it’s gotten as much attention as it deserves.”

 

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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