By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Six days after Medrano challenged him on his vote in favor of the no-bid contracts for Pappadeux and Pappasito's, the mayor is pressed for an explanation inside his fifth-floor City Hall office.
"I just see that as being a straw man, to be truthful with you," he says with a grin.
When asked if that's the only no-bid contract he's approved as a member of the D/FW board, the mayor says he doesn't recall.
"I was told I voted on that one," he says. "I haven't gone back and checked the record or what the circumstances were."
So is he concerned at all about casting a vote on a no-bid contract that he doesn't remember?
"It had to be three years ago," he says, adding that he's sure there were "special circumstances."
A simple e-mail request for the minutes from the November 1, 2007, D/FW board meeting revealed that Leppert did vote to approve the three 10-year contracts. Additional open records requests discovered that the mayor approved two more no-bid contracts (known at D/FW as directly negotiated contracts) that very same day: one for XpresSpa and another for Tech Showcase. One year later, he approved a no-bid contract for Natalie's Candy Bar.
Then there's the question of the mayor's position on the parking contract at Love Field.
Of the airport's 2010 projected revenue of $53.6 million, 34 percent ($18.3 million) comes from the parking concessions, 21 percent is paid by airlines for terminal rentals and landing fees, 13 percent are payments from car rental companies and 13 percent ($7 million) is the combined anticipated revenue from food and beverage, retail and advertising concessions. The remaining 19 percent is a mixed bag of various rent payments and other fees.
"I'll be very consistent," Leppert says when asked about the parking contract at Love Field. "I think that we oughta open things up and have RFPs and open it up to a bidding process. I'd like to see all of that done."
That appears to be a shift from his position at the June 10, 2009, council meeting, when Leppert voted along with a majority to extend APA Parking Associates' contract at Love by five years. (Former council member Mitchell Rasansky objected then, saying, "It's just not my style to approve a $65 million contract without getting other bids.")
"I'd love to understand the circumstances," Leppert replies when told of his June 2009 vote. "I'm sorry. I don't remember."
Aside from the mayor's memory lapses and apparent inconsistencies on the question of to bid or not to bid, the Harvard-educated former construction executive and skilled politician has a message that is resonating with the public and some of his fellow council members.
"I want our city to be viewed as open and transparent," he says. "I think it goes beyond simply an individual contract. It goes to the reputation of the city."
Former council member Ed Oakley, who lost to Leppert in the 2007 mayoral runoff election and supported the mayor's campaign to build a city-owned convention center hotel, says he doesn't understand why Leppert is spending so much political capital on this issue instead of more pressing ones.
"He oughta be passing a bond program to fix the goddamned levees, and he oughta be worried about how to raise the money to fix this budget that he's fucked up," he says, condemning the mayor's recent visit to the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce seeking support for his cause.
Oakley says his experience as a council member taught him that the city staff consistently does well as it sniffs out which deal is in the city's best interests. When a council member adamantly opposes the staff recommendation, he claims, his or her motives in most cases aren't pure.
"Usually the person who's screaming the loudest on the council is the person that has either friends or connections to people who want those contracts and didn't get them," he says.
The one instance he recalls voting against the staff recommendation was when the red-light camera contract was awarded to Affiliated Computer Systems, which lacked the required investigations company license to conduct business. The consultant lobbying council members at the time on behalf of ACS? Willis Johnson.
Still, Leppert's position has its supporters among ex-council members.
Former council member Sandra Crenshaw says Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson's interests at Love Field and D/FW, where she has another venture with Hudson and a 25 percent stake through a blind trust, are minority fronts.
"Eddie Bernice is not getting any hands-on experience," she says. "She has nothing to pass on to her kids. She's just a tag-on."
Crenshaw's a proponent of opening up the bids to someone like Fred Conwright, who co-owns a South Dallas restaurant called Two Podners and is partnered with Atlanta-based Paradies Shop for several food and merchandise concessions at D/FW.
Conwright says Star and Hudson deserve to be compensated for their losses from 9/11, but he argues that an 18-year contract is too much and suggests instead that the compensation be in the form of a direct payment based on an evaluation of their books. And while he's interested in bidding at Love Field, he wants a shot at the prime locations.