The city council's Transportation and Environment Committee yesterday afternoon met for 90 minutes in executive session after Unison Consulting, the city's consultant for Love Field airport, presented a briefing on the benefits of competition for the airport's concessions. Because rent is paid to the city based on a percentage of sales, the city has an interest in improving customer service and increasing profits, two bonuses of opening things up as explained by the consultants.
Star Concessions, the largest operator of food and beverage concessions at DFW airport, is currently the sole concessionaire at Love Field. The concession space will double as a result of the airport's $519 million expansion, and the city is considering a competitive bid process for the new space.
So after two briefings and a lengthy executive session, we assumed the committee would embrace the concept of capitalism -- with competition being a key ingredient -- but the minority council members weren't sold on the idea. Vonciel Hill proposed a motion rejecting the plan to open the bidding and endorsed authorizing extensions of the contracts with Star Concessions and the airport's parking concessionaire until 2014.
Hill's motion failed in a 5-3 vote, with the committee's other minority members (Pauline Medrano and Carolyn Davis) voting with her. It's also noteworthy that two other minority council members, Steve Salazar and Dwaine Caraway, sat in on the meeting, and Tennell Atkins was spotted outside during the executive session.
The issue has clearly become racial as outlined by former DMN'er and Dallas public information officer Pete Oppel, who described the first briefing on this as "not pretty to witness because of its blatant racism." The racial tension relates to minority-owned Star Concessions and its CEO Gilbert Aranza, who Friend of Unfair Park Wylie H. warns us is "a seriously 'connected' guy when it comes to the Dallas City Council." After the jump, find out just how connected he is and also what happened with the booting ordinance.
Aranza happens to be a director of the influential Dallas Citizens Council, and he donated funds to the campaigns of Hill, Davis, Medrano, Caraway, Atkins, Salazar, Dr. Elba Garcia and Delia Jasso, who faces a June 13 runoff against Justin Epker to determine who will replace Garcia on the council.
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Aranza also traveled with the council when they visited Mexico, and he gave testimony in March to the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee regarding the Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program.
"The fact is, while we have made progress in this country against racial and ethnic discrimination, a great deal remains to be done," he said. "Discrimination against minority-owned companies is still very common and very damaging. Even though many large, majority-owned companies advocate diversity, I truly believe that they would not make room for minority-owned companies without programs like the ACDBE program."
So the best way to combat discrimination is to allow minority businesses to have a monopoly? Not only does this exclude white businesses, but it also prevents other minority companies from getting their piece of the pie. Whether or not Aranza gets to keep the whole pie is unknown, but if the minority council members can find just one more vote, they'll have the eight votes needed to quash the effort to allow others their piece.
It would have been fascinating to sit in on their closed-door meeting, especially since it delayed the briefing on an ordinance regulating the booting of vehicles in private parking lots. Medrano introduced a motion to temporarily ban booting until the committee could hear the briefing and make a recommendation to the full council, but it failed as five committee members voted against Medrano, who was supported by Hill and Angela Hunt.