By Maria Saporta
And now for another side of the story.
Last week, a federal jury awareded $17.5 million in damages to Corey Advertising, which had argued that the City of Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport illegally awarded an indoor advertising contract to a politically-connected competitor.
But Ben DeCosta, who was general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson when Corey was seeking the advertising contract, sent me an email Monday evening with a different point of view. DeCosta retired as the airport’s general manager about a month ago.
Since DeCosta is a lawyer by training, I thought it would make sense to just publish his whole email so readers could judge for themselves. If the Corey Advertising folks want to respond, they are more than welcome to reach out to me.
In the meantime, here is a copy of DeCosta’s email — word for word:
From Ben DeCosta:
The public reporting of the Corey advertising case has suffered from the absence of hard facts.
Billy Corey has claimed publicly, through the media and through an Internet web site, and at the same time through the judicial system that elected officials and city professionals have intentionally discriminated against him and his company when he did not win the procurement of airport’s 2002 advertising contract. He also complained that we conspired to deprive him of his right to the contract.
The facts were presented in the city’s defense during the trial but went uncovered in the media.
What are some of the salient facts missing from the discourse and the commentary on this dispute? What truths are lacking?
1. History is not evidence. A video deposition by Angela Gittens, the then the Airport director, tells of a 1995 purported conversation with Bill Campbell, then mayor of Atlanta, regarding delaying the Airport Advertising RFP, a full seven years before the April 2002 issuance by the city of the Airport Advertising request for proposals ( RFP). This video lacked any relevance to any acts, intentions or motivations of Mayor Shirley Franklin, Airport Director Ben DeCosta, the responsible public manager at the time, or the numerous professionals in three city departments who worked in, and manage the various aspects of, the procurement process. Ancient acts by former mayors may be given Biblical connotations (sins of the father….), but certainly are not appropriate to the judicial standards of proof and facts required to support Corey allegations of discrimination and conspiracy. These old statements, even if true, are not evidence and should not have been allowed before the jury for the finding of the truth regarding the procurement process in 2002. There was no evidence in the case of acts by Mayor Franklin, Ben DeCosta or any City official or worker who discriminated against Corey.
2. The RFP was fair. The 2002 Airport Advertising RFP criteria were broadened to create a more competitive playing field to attract additional contestants to compete for the contract. Initially the RFP required experience that Billy Corey’s company did not have and therefore would not have been qualified to compete. The changes made by the city in the RFP allowed Corey and others to compete along with Clear Channel. In addition, in an attempt to entice another company to submit proposals, the RFP allowed for more flexible and creative distribution of advertising dioramas, instead of limiting the field of competition and intending to favor the incumbent Clear Channel as Corey has claimed. The city pursued sound business practices to increase the number of contestants to improve our chances for more revenue and improved services through competition. There was no proof in the case of any discrimination against Corey in the formulation of the RFP.
3. The evaluators did not discriminate. The evaluation of the proposals submitted by three contestants was fair and professional by a diverse group of city staff members. Clear Channel scored more points than Corey in a process where four experienced Airport professionals evaluated the proposals independently and each, separately, without conferring, found that Clear Channel had the better proposal. Each person testified under oath to their actions and intentions and that they handled the process honestly and with integrity. Also, there was no evidence of their intent to discriminate. In fact court evidence revealed that Corey had lost five contests for Airport Advertising at around the same time as their Atlanta proposal. Atlanta was the largest and presumably the one least likely for them to win against an experienced company like Clear Channel. Clear Channel managed advertising at some of the nation’s largest airports while Corey had a single contract at the airport in Columbus Georgia.
4. The City and airport follows sound business practices. . The Airport has been run as a business since the days of Mayor Hartsfield. As a matter of national policy, it continues to operate today on sound business principles as a business enterprise. Every tenant in good standing who provides the agreed upon service and rent, at the level of required operational and management standard, is entitled to continue despite the city’s administrative delay in its procurement processes. The city is obligated to use sound policies in every aspect of the operation by balancing the multiple needs of the passengers, airlines, concessionaires, businesses, bondholders and the general public.
The allegation that Clear Channel owed the Atlanta millions of dollars is absolutely untrue. Clear Channel’s agreements had expired but they continued to provide service and pay rent as a month-to-month tenant. As such a tenant, Clear Channel was not treated differently from any other month-to-month tenant. All tenants in good standing, as the testimony reflects, were treated alike.
Automatic assessment of penalty rent increases are only designed to oust tenants not in good standing and force them to vacate the premises immediately.
In this case of the advertising contract and the other expired contracts that existed at the start of Shirley Franklin’s administration, we handled them in the overall public interests, while at the same time, we were handling the airport master plan, the negotiations with the airlines, the acceptance of the 5th runway and the many security and customer issues raised by the terrorist attacks of 911 , to name a few of the many relevant issues handled by us.
We made business decisions in the best interest of the City, the airport, our economy and the nation’s travelers. Ousting tenants would make no sense and be a poor business practice.
Hartsfield- Jackson Atlanta International Airport routinely ranks among the top airports in the nation for customer service and efficiency. It is the busiest and most efficient airport in the world. The airport’s expansion including the fifth runway, the rental car complex and the international terminal will continue to serve the nation and support our local economy for years to come.