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Reed Rewards Donors, Guards Secrecy in Airport Contracts
(APN) ATLANTA -- A number of high-profile campaign contributors to Mayor Kasim Reed have received airport contracts, raising concerns about possible pay-to-play, even while Reed's Administration guards all aspects of the bidding process with great secrecy.
At stake is who will benefit from tens of millions of dollars in revenue from one of the nation's busiest airports. Over 250,000 passengers are estimated to go through Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport every day.
On December 14, 2011, the City announced its selections, pending Council approval, for who will receive the contracts for 125 food and beverage concession stands and 27 retail locations at the Airport and the new International Terminal, which is set to open in spring 2012.
Meanwhile, Reed has continued his practice of closed-door politics, insisting upon secrecy in almost every aspect of the bidding process, raising numerous disputes surrounding the Georgia Open Records Act.
The same Mayor whose staff refused to divulge basic plans for the redevelopment of City Hall East, and who participated in and helped orchestrate the closed-door LGBT APD Advisory Board meetings, is now refusing to provide information concerning who sat on the panel that selected the winning airport contracts; about which contracts did not meet an initial deadline and were given an extension; and how a decision was reached to provide a separate currency exchange contract to a new vendor.
As for the secret panel, Common Cause Georgia has criticized Reed for not yet releasing the names of the members of the panel that evaluated the bids.
In June 2011, CCG had released a Pay-to-Play proposal intended to reduce the potential for pay-to-play in the airport contracting, which would have prohibited vendors or potential vendors from donating money to Reed or Council Members within a certain window of time.
Mayor Reed at the time rejected the proposal, saying there was no pay-to-play problem with his administration.
But in a June 08, 2011, statement, Reed promised that "The names of the evaluation members, once finalized, will be released to the public."
William Perry, Executive Director of CCG, took Reed to task for breaking his promise, noting that at the recent meeting of the City Council's Transportation Committee, the Mayor's representative, Duriya Farooqui, stated that the names will not be released until before the Mayor signs the final legislation regarding the contracts.
"The Mayor made it clear in June that he was against our Pay-to-Play proposal, but his decision to release the names was an announcement we hailed. But we, and the public, were duped. We were not the ones to suggest releasing the names; Mayor Reed proposed the gesture on his own. Given that the bidding process has already had its integrity called into question, releasing the names could help reinforce the Mayor’s commitment to honest and open procurement," Perry wrote in a blog post.
In May 2011, Hollie Manheimer of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation told the Saporta Report online news service that she did not believe the list of panel members was exempt from the Open Records Act.
Meanwhile, one company, Travelex, which presently has the currency exchange contract at the Atlanta airport, is suing for access to records about how another company was awarded the contract. The City refuses to provide the records.
Travelex says it wants to appeal the City's decision to give the contract to another company, but that it cannot file this appeal without documents pertaining to the City's decision-making process.
Travelex Currency Services filed a lawsuit on December 02, 2011, against the City of Atlanta; the City Council of Atlanta; Mayor Reed; Louis Miller, Aviation General Manager; and Adam Smith, Chief Procurement Officer, seeking a restraining order.
A hearing before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Cynthia Wright was held last week, on an emergency motion by Travelex to release information on all bids for the currency exchange contract, under the Georgia Open Records Act. However, Wright denied the emergency motion, according to a statement dated December 15, 2011, by the City of Atlanta.
Travelex's retail division did not immediately return a message from Atlanta Progressive News seeking comment.
Finally, Creative Loafing Atlanta magazine sought in September 2011 the list of bidders who were allowed to submit late, revised bids.
According to CL, the City refused to release the information citing an Open Records Act exemption, one which CL did not agree with. CL filed a complaint with Attorney General Sam Olens's office, which, as of November 2011, had not been resolved.
Fox 5 television news reported that one of the companies, Delaware North, which had submitted bids with errors and was allowed to re-submit a revised, late bid, at one time listed Dan Halpern as one of its bid participants.
Halpern, as previously reported by APN, was one of Reed's top campaign advisers in 2009 and was nominated by Reed to serve as a Member of the Board of Commissioners of the Atlanta Housing Authority.
Halpern told Fox 5, however, that he was not at this time connected with the company.
Fox 5 counted up over 80,000 dollars in donations to Reed from owners or employees several airport concession companies, some of which Reed returned.
Over 22,000 dollars was contributed by Delaware North, one of the winning bidders.
Reed's office has recommended nine Food and Beverage restaurant packages, each containing several restaurants a piece; in addition to two Retail packages.
Hojejj Branded Foods received a Food and Beverage recommendation from the Mayor's Office. Owners and employees of Hojejj gave thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Mayor Reed in 2009, according to Atlanta Progressive News's analysis at the time.
One successful bidder is Chip Joyner, owner of the Real Chow Baby. Joyner is a long-time close college friend of Mayor Reed. Mr. Joyner and his wife have donated over 7,000 dollars to Mayor Reed's Centers of Hope, according to Atlanta Magazine.
In last week's Transportation Committee meeting of the City Council, Felicia Moore (District 9) was the only one to oppose both sets of contracts. Meanwhile, CT Martin (District 10), Keisha Lance Bottoms (District 11), Carla Smith (District 10), and Lamar Willis (Post 2-at-large) voted to approve both sets of contracts.
Councilman Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large) abstained from voting on the food and beverage contracts, but voted no on the retail contracts.
Moore complained about the Administration having presented the Council Members with the proposed legislation to approve the contracts in the middle of the night prior to the vote. Moore called it not a walk-in paper, but a "run-in paper."
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