Tomorrow, finally, the city council will be briefed once again on the concession contracts at Dallas Love Field Airport that has the council is split along racial lines. Mayor Tom Leppert failed to mention the racial taint attached to the issue in an e-mail we received from his campaign this morning, but he did make it clear that "one uncommitted council member will decide the vote."
Council member Angela Hunt says she wasn't bothered by Leppert's indirect reference to her, but she's troubled that he's assuming the vote will be 8-7.
"That may very well be how things end up, but that seemed to me to shut the door on a decision that would be supported by a larger majority of the council, and I really haven't gotten a sense that we're at that breaking point, particularly when we haven't even discussed the options at tomorrow's briefing," she tells Unfair Park. "So I thought that was a little bit presumptuous to assume that the lines have been drawn, even though we haven't even discussed the other options that the mayor and some others are interested in putting forth."
Hunt, revealed as the swing vote on this issue in our June cover story and, as DMN'er Gromer Jeffers pointed out today, also the likely swing vote on a potential tax increase, says her initial reaction to the 38-page briefing was that the fourth of the four options is "very complex," and she wants to know if it's used in other airports.
"Now is not the time to try some untested formula for determining the concessionaires out there," she says.
The first option opens bidding for both the old and new terminals. The second option is the plan approved 10-0 by the Transportation and Environment Committee in February. The third option allows for the current concessionaires to match bids, and the fourth option is the brainchild of Leppert and Ron Natinsky, which we posted on Friday. So, as we mentioned on Friday, is it possible that Hunt could punt on all four?
"I have thought about that, and the fact is, I don't think that's in the best interests of the airport. I think we've aired out a lot of different options. By end of day tomorrow, I think we'll have several new options on the table, and I really do think we can and should decide at this point what the future of the concessions are at Love Field."
However, Hunt notes that she's expressed to the mayor that "it's not appropriate" to vote right after the briefing because folks have questions that need answers and a week to digest the information would also be nice before casting their votes, so an August 25 vote is expected.
After delaying the vote on this issue for a second time on June 23, Leppert charged staff with coming back with more options after the council's recess, but it was him and Natinsky who authored the only major new option. So would Hunt advocate for more city staff input?
"Not necessarily," she says, citing instances when she's witnessed best practices in other cities and brought in examples that staff had perhaps missed and then suggested that the city go in that direction. "On the K2 issue, I think what was brought forward by staff and the mayor was not really something that closely examined what was being done in some other jurisdictions that might have worked better and addressed the problem better."
So which way is Hunt leaning? She wouldn't give us the goods, but we think she expanded enough on our questions about the briefing to give a pretty good indication.
"If we're focused on the open-bid process and think that's the best way to create competition and get the very best concessionaires out there, then I think the next question is: Do we want a single concessionaire manager to decide what goes into each space or do we want each space to be individually bid and have some management at the airport to decide the brands? And, on that issue, I really want to understand what other successful airports have done and their style of management.
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"It's imprudent to begin playing with these complex, hybrid management styles and bidding processes when we could simplify it, make it really easy, transparent and look at what other airports have done. I think that's really the direction we oughta go, and I don't think we should just handpick which airports we're looking at to bolster one side's case or the other. We oughta look at the best airports and then after we've decided which are the best airports, then look at how they've managed their concessionaires. Because, at this point, I'm concerned not just how we bid this out, but with how we manage it once we bid it out because the bidding process informs the management structure. If we're going to bid out 40 separate spaces, that means we're going to have to have a management structure from the airport to oversee the brands and how we're going to have each space filled with which brand and which vendor. So we've really got to figure all of this out at one time rather than just saying, 'We're going to have an open-bid process.' It's much more complex than that, and I think we have to answer more questions than: Is it open bid or is it incumbent bid?"
Hunt's comments can't come of much comfort to food and beverage concessionaire Gilbert Aranza, but he's offering up one final Hail Mary in addition to, as Leppert calls it, "a slick" mailer he sent out recently urging residents to contact their council member to offer support for his company: an e-mail of his own, along with his comments on the fourth option. Enjoy.
Tomorrow the Dallas City Council will be presented with four Love Field food and beverage contract options, only one of which (Option 2) has been recommended by the city's professional staff and adequately reviewed. Option 2 has been unanimously approved by the City Council's Transportation Committee, which includes council members Koop, Kadane, Allen, Adkins, Davis, Hunt, Jasso, Medrano, Natinsky, and Hill.
Options 1, 3 and 4
Option 1 was presented by city staff in June, 2007, without the benefit of national consultants, and was rejected by the City Council's Transportation Committee. Options 3 and 4 were devised by our mayor and City Councilman Ron Natinsky, not the City's professional staff. If the mayor can arbitrarily discard the work of city staff and its consultants, Dallas has evolved into a strong mayor form of government, which voters rejected because Dallas does not want a political "boss" to control the business of the city.
This is why so many people distrust the government.
Why is the mayor so personally invested in the contract process? It's not the "no-bid" issue. On the contrary; the mayor has been a proponent of many true no-bid contracts and contract extensions during his tenure, including the Love Field parking contract extension and, as a member of the DFW International Airport Board, the Papadeaux, Papasitos and Natalie Candies leases, among others at DFW International Airport.
It's not the quality of services. On the contrary; current concessionaires have won national quality awards, and the mayor's newest plan (Option 4) involves keeping the current providers at the airport for the next thirteen or fourteen years.
The mayor has made this a political issue when it should be about what is best for Dallas and Love Field.
Please take the time to know the facts and do something for Dallas. If you want the Mayor to stop playing politics, please click the Dallas City Council members email addresses below and tell them to vote for Option 2, the plan recommended by city staff and approved by the Dallas City Council Transportation Committee.
Thank you for your support.