City Hall

City of Dallas Votes to Dump Patronage Soda

OK, Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs probably didn't threaten to break a city staff member's fingers, as he was accused of doing the infamous Affair of the Fucking Digits earlier this year. But he did call city staff a bunch of lard-asses Monday. We know, because we heard him do it. Not in those exact words, but still ... words can hurt, councilman. Words can hurt.

Monday afternoon, the Dallas City Council's Budget Finance and Audit Committee voted 5-1 to deny city staff's request to give Coca-Cola the city's beverage contract. It was a seemingly innocuous thing, but it tied together a couple of the more interesting threads hanging around Dallas City Hall into an intriguing package.

As a means of generating extra cash for the city, Dallas began awarding an exclusive contract to serve soft drinks at city facilities in 2004. There are some exceptions to the contract, like the zoo and Gexa Energy Pavillion, but since 2004, Dr Pepper has stocked the vending machines at 1500 Marilla and the city's libraries and rec centers. The drink maker had what's called "pour rights" at the Meyerson, the convention center and the city-owned Bahama Beach water parks. The current contract with Dr Pepper, signed off on in 2009, expires in December.

City staff wants, well wanted, to award the new contract to Coke. Coke's bid would've paid the city slightly more money than Dr Pepper's — although the money Coke would've paid would've been based on commissions, Dr Pepper would've paid a little less, but done it up front — but it got battered pretty heavily by the committee before being sent back. Council members, Griggs especially, criticized providing ready access to soda to city employees as irresponsible and suggested that part of the scoring process for the contract — points are awarded for how many cases a vendor is willing to "donate" to each council member's office — wasn't quite right.

"So, part of this scoring system we have is how much soda they'll give to every council member?" Griggs asked, receiving an affirmative reply from city staff. "So during [this bidding process] they got points for giving 100 cases, about $6,000 worth of soda to each council member. I think on that alone we ought to reject it. Part of this system is what they are going to give each of us to do with whatever we want and that's just wrong. We need to send a message out: If this is in any other type of contract we need to do away with it and start over. I think we need to stand up and say it's wrong even though it's been a tradition for, probably for, decades. We don't need to do business where people are scored based on what gifts they give council members."

Well, that'd certainly be a welcome change, and if Griggs had stopped right there, acknowledging the City Council's own sins when it comes to the fizzy sugared-drink industrial complex, that would have been fine. Virtuous even. But Griggs, a svelte man, had to bend over and pick up a stone. He brought up city wellness data that suggest Dallas city employees are among the heaviest in the country.

"We've heard the reports, we're the most obese city staff in the United States. 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. "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."

Erik Wilson, the only member of the committee to vote for the contract, said that he couldn't be bought with a case of soda. He did not say whether he could be bribed with 100 cases. Later, he hopped on Griggs' Facebook post praising the vote to further air his feelings.

"I agree with offering options for drinks at City Hall. What I don't agree with is just randomly making changes without careful consideration of offering viable alternative solutions," Wilson said.

City staff is now charged with seeking new bids, ones that will provide more healthy options within City Hall and no free cases of drinks for council members.

Which is a good thing, of course, a fact we're certain city staffers will remember as they raise their cups of vegan smoothies and carrot juice high and praise Griggs for looking out for them.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young