City of Dallas Set to End Soda Squabble

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Last winter's Dallas City Council battle over the city's soda contract was way more fun than it had any right to be. Cases of soda landed in council offices in a way that smelled a lot like patronage. There were long exchanges about something called pour rights, and City Council member Scott Griggs pointed out that the "most obese city staff in the United States" probably didn't need ready access to free soda. As of Monday, the fight looks set to end with Griggs and others who opposed the way things were previously done getting some of the concessions they wanted.

In November, Coca-Cola appeared set to get handed the city's beverage contract, which includes rights to pour soda at the Meyerson Symphony Center, city golf courses and recreation centers, among other places, and getting to stock the vending machines at city facilities. Nevertheless, the council rejected it 14-1 after Griggs and others pointed out that contract scoring that favored Coke included points for soda kicked back to council members and did nothing to help provide healthier drink options at City Hall and elsewhere.

"We've got a real issue here that our city manager has made a priority. On the one hand, we're filling this place with soda, even taking free soft drinks, and on the other hand we're battling obesity and diabetes. We've got record healthcare payments. We might as well just take this money we're getting and write the check over to United Healthcare," Griggs said in November. "Are we OK with being the fattest city staff in the nation? If so, then we might as well give contracts to both Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper."

Monday, the contract was back in front of the city's Budget Finance and Audit Committee, this time with a recommendation from city staff that the contract be awarded to Dr Pepper, which has held the city's exclusive beverage contract since it was first awarded in 2004. As part of the proposed deal with Dr Pepper, no points were awarded for free council soda, full-sugar sodas will be limited to 10 percent of the spots in vending machines on city property and the city will get up to $2.2 million based on sales, with $840,000 guaranteed.

Griggs, who voted to recommend the new contract to the full council for a vote on May 11, said the new effort from Dr Pepper was "much improved."

Philip Kingston was the only member of the committee to vote against recommending the new contract. He noted that despite the limits on the number of vending machine slots that can be taken up by full sugar sodas, the contract did not impose any limitations on the number of times machines could be refilled.

"I did not want to see any full-sugar drinks come back to this committee. Our policy is that we have one of the most overweight groups of employees that our wellness consultant has ever measured and we need to not be enabling unhealthy behavior," he said.

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