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What’s so bad about a food fight?

Didn’t get a chance to blog about the airport concessions contract yesterday, which wound up getting tagged for a week in Council, so here we go now:

Mayor Bill White said Wednesday he was confident he had the votes to extend a multimillion-dollar airport concession contract, despite a one-week delay forced by a councilwoman who said the deal should have been competitively bid.

“Open it up, let’s have a competition,” Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck said. “If, indeed, this is the best deal we can get for the city, then the process will show it.”

Clutterbuck used a tag, a parliamentary rule that allows council members to delay any measure for any reason, to hold off a vote Wednesday.

If approved, the contract extension would allow JDDA Concession Management, owned by local businessman Jason Yoo, to retain management of the food courts in Terminal C at George Bush Intercontinental Airport until 2016.

The concession contract, scheduled to expire next June, has not been put out to bid since 1990. The original agreement has been amended three times.

White remained firm Wednesday that extending the contract, rather than bidding, would give the city a better deal. An extension also would bypass a potentially lengthy and rancorous bid process.

In the past, open bids for food concessions at Hobby and Bush airports have led to protracted and ugly “food fights” at City Council as competing vendors battled to win the lucrative contracts.

[…]

“It’s been big and ugly in the past because there’s a heck of a lot of money involved,” said Joe Householder of Public Strategies, a business consulting firm.

“I can see where the mayor and administration are going in saying, ‘Let’s avoid that and get a nice deal that gives us some more money, that maybe we could not have gotten in a public fight,’ ” Householder said.

“But, at the same time, open public processes are designed to be messy. If you don’t want to have debate, then don’t be in politics.”

I confess, this is one of those stories that I’ve never really followed all that closely. I don’t remember why it was so messy a thing to work through in years past. But I have to say, even if I’d never heard of this before, I’d be agreeing with what Council Member Clutterbuck and Joe Householder are saying. Whether you call this an extension or a new contract, if it’s a good deal for the city then it will stand up to scrutiny. Bypassing the review process can only lead to suspicion. And the messiness of that process is a feature, not a bug. Let’s do this the right way.

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4 Comments

  1. kevin whited says:

    Whether you call this an extension or a new contract, if it’s a good deal for the city then it will stand up to scrutiny.

    Okay, that line left me confused. It’s not so much public scrutiny of this particular deal that’s the issue, but whether the thing should be opened up to bidding.

    Clutterbuck is specifically advocating an open, competitive bid process. When you say you are in agreement with Clutterbuck, am I correct to conclude that you are also advocating an open bidding process?

  2. My read of this was that CM Clutterbuck was arguing that what was being proposed was a new contract and not an extension of the old one. It’s not clear to me that she would have called for a competitive open-bid process for an extension. If this is merely an extension, then it needn’t be re-bid, though it should be reviewed. If it’s not, then it should be re-bid. I’m not sure how that determination gets made, but that’s how I see it.

  3. kevin whited says:

    Clutterbuck specifically advocates holding an open-bid process. From the story:

    a one-week delay forced by a councilwoman who said the deal should have been competitively bid.

    “Open it up, let’s have a competition,” Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck said.

    The Mayor disagrees. From the story:

    White remained firm Wednesday that extending the contract, rather than bidding, would give the city a better deal.

    You said you agree with Clutterbuck, but it’s still not clear to me what you’re agreeing with.

    Specifically — are you saying your position is that the contract should have been extended (the mayor’s position), or are you saying the contract should have been opened to competitive bid (Clutterbuck’s position), or are you simply not taking a position on that aspect of the matter?

  4. But Clutterbuck also said this:

    Yoo and some of his subcontractors lobbied council members for a contract extension, on the basis that construction in Terminal C and the 9/11 airline slump had led to lower-than-expected revenues.

    That argument frustrated Clutterbuck.

    “This is, in essence, a new contract,” she said. “You can’t just call it an amendment because we want to give this particular owner a chance to recoup his investment.”

    What I’m hearing here is that she thinks this is a new contract, not an extension of the old one, and that she thinks a new contract should be bid competitively. I am inferring that she would not require a competitive bid for an extension. I agree with both of these – a new contract needs to be bid competitively, an extension need not be. Perhaps I am misinterpreting her, but this is what I think. Does that answer your question?