Atlanta worker involved with bungled airport contracts left for ‘better opportunity,’ city says

By David Pendered

An Atlanta official who was deeply involved in the airport concessions contracting program left her job with the city two weeks before Atlanta announced its decision to cancel the initial process and start over, a city official confirmed Wednesday.

Contracting Officer Carla Cail left her city job on Aug. 17. On Sept 2, Atlanta COO Peter Aman announced the city was cancelling the concessions procurement process and would issue new requests for proposals. Aman didn’t mention Cail’s departure, although her name arose in conversation.

“She left city employment on Aug. 17, 2011 to accept a better opportunity,” Sonji Jacobs, Mayor Kasim Reed’s spokeswoman, said in an email Wednesday. There was no elaboration.

Cail may well have been the person responsible for writing and implementing the requests for proposals used in the procurement process the city cancelled. The job description of a contracting officer, provided by Jacobs, begins with these two key duties:

  • Drafts requests for proposals;
  • Implements bid process by establishing bid criteria, chairing pre-bid and post-proposal conferences and by providing detailed information to bidders and proponents regarding the competitive bid and RFP process.”

Vendors clearly had trouble navigating the process.

Ninety-five bids were received in the first round and 43 percent of them were rejected for some sort of reason, a city document shows.

The largest proportion of flaws were in bids submitted by the very Mom and Pop companies that Reed intended to showcase at the airport. From the outset, the mayor made clear his desire to ensure that many small businesses have a shot at opening their doors in the world’s busiest passenger airport.

Many small businesses, perhaps including Manuel's Tavern (though the city won't say), bungled their paperwork to compete for a slot at the airport. Almost two of three small business submitted botched bids. Credit: Manuel's Tavern

Many small businesses, perhaps including Manuel's Tavern (though the city won't say), bungled their paperwork to compete for a slot at the airport. Almost two of three small business submitted botched bids. Credit: Manuel's Tavern

To achieve that result, which could be viewed as a major legacy, Reed’s administration crafted a procurement program vendors said is the first of its kind at domestic airports.

Cail could not be located Wednesday through Internet searches. Her name has been removed from the city’s webpage. The receptionist at the Department of Procurement said Tuesday Cail no longer works for the city. Cail’s email address generated an auto-reply on Monday, but nothing on Wednesday.

The email response Monday did not indicate Cail had left her job:

“Greetings.  I am currently out of the office.  Should you have questions or need immediate assistance, please contact Mr. Girard Geeter or Ms. Jessica Boston at 404-330-6204.

“Thank you.”

Geeter did not respond to a voice mail left Tuesday. He was hired in 2003 as a deputy chief procurement officer and now heads the aviation division of the Department of Procurement.

Cail was a public face of the initial airport concessions process. This massive undertaking involves new competitive contracts with private companies to operate every food and beverage location at the airport, plus all the retail slots in the new terminal. Reed has said it is one of the largest procurement processes in the history of North American airports.

And it’s big business – airport concessions generate more than $336 million a year, according to the LinkedIn page of one airport manager. Contract terms extend for seven to 10 years, depending on the contract, with options for a three-year renewal.

At the city’s April 5 pre-proposal meeting on the aviation contracts, Cail delivered an eight-page PowerPoint presentation. She was identified as the contracting officer for the Department of Procurement. Geeter delivered the welcome and introductory remarks.

During her presentation, Cail specifically warned more than 500 potential vendors they should pay close attention to new forms the city was requiring for these concessions contracts.

Failure to comply would result in disqualification, several city officials said at the time.

Among the required forms were several that seek to ensure that only legal residents of the U.S. work at the airport. One proved to be especially problematic – the Georgia Security Immigration Compliance Act of 2006, known as GSICA.

Just over a third of the 95 concessions proposals the city received in the initial round of bids were deemed non-responsive for having “incomplete/incorrect/No GSICA form,” according to a document the city released the day it announced the initial process was cancelled.

Among the Mom and Pop companies that competed in a separate category reserved for them, 27 of 58 proposals had botched the GSICA forms. The number of Mom and Pop packages rejected for all sorts of reasons was 34 – which is 59 percent of the total submissions in that category.

Atlanta released this spread sheet to explain its reasons for canceling the procurement process for airport concessions. Credit: City of Atlanta

Atlanta released this spread sheet to explain its reasons for canceling the procurement process for airport concessions. Credit: City of Atlanta

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.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.