In a meeting filled with relative calm, the council Wednesday approved a modified no-bid deal for vendors at Love Field, providing for the soon-to-be-remodeled airport’s entire retail/restaurant space to be bid out but allowing the two existing vendors to retain a first right of refusal to maintain up to 27 percent of the space.
The approved plan represents a significant compromise from the original staff proposal — which would have allowed the existing vendors to retain all of the space on a negotiated contract that wasn’t going to be bid out at all — but it still provides what I would consider to be an unnecessary amount of protection to the existing vendors in terms of the first-right clause.
While doing other work during the day and watching the Texas Rangers lose their third straight game to the Blue Jays, I listened to much of the four-hour-plus debate as it wound through the afternoon, and I have a couple of comments about the process:
• The approved plan isn’t perfect, and there’s really no benefit to the city to provide a first right to the existing vendors. All that does it guarantee them a piece of the pie if they’re willing to match a competitive offer, so in effect they are receiving special benefits not being made available to the other bidders.
• Having said that, it was pretty clear from the discussion that quite a number of the minority council members, who voted en masse against the final solution, needed a bone to take away from the vote, and the first right was that bone. It seemed that the 27 percent clause was approved simply as a political payoff. I’m not saying that’s an entirely bad thing, because the city still winds up better-off than with the original plan, but watching some council members hold their noses while approving the 27 percent while also watching other council members whine that even that allowance somehow wasn’t enough made my stomach turn. It’s like that old adage about the sausage factory, I guess: It just doesn’t taste that great after you’ve watched it being made.
• It was literally painful to watch Caroline Davis and, to a lesser extent Vonciel Jones Hill make their arguments. They are so clearly overmatched in their jobs as council members that I feel sorry for the people they’re representing.
• Dwaine Caraway just can’t shut up, even when he’s making good points. The guy likes to hear himself talk, that’s for sure. And heaven forbid that he ever becomes mayor, simply because those council meetings will never end if he controls the microphone and the gavel.
• Gilbert Aranza and an attorney representing the other vendor (partially owned by U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson) had a chance to speak for a few minutes prior to the vote. Both did nothing to make their mothers proud, basically spouting angrily about how they were being tooled by the city. They’re entitled to their opinions, and the process did first approve their original no-bid deal and then take it away, but that’s business, particularly in the public arena. If they had spoken in a little more measured tone, it might have helped them somewhere down the road the next time they’re before the council looking to feed at the public trough. Since they chose the low road, hopefully that “next time” will be a long time from now.
• As promised, Angela Hunt proved to be the swing vote and, from the public discussion, it appeared she was instrumental in resolving the issue in a manner that precluded the promised/threatenbed blood-letting by the minority council members. She made the motion to approve the compromise solution, and she appeared to have handled herself in a manner that allowed most of those voting against the approved solution to at least continue respecting her. She also managed to make her points with brevity (take note, mayor pro tem Caraway) and in a manner that pushed the ball forward rather than simply dribbling it back and forth under the basket.
• Mayor Tom Leppert did the right thing here, probably for the wrong reasons, but at least he brought Love Field’s concession situation into the modern era. I sensed that he lost a few friends among the minority members, but as I’ve observed (in a nauseating way) over the years, the words “friends” and “politics” are mutually exclusive and pretty bogus in the political arena anyway.
Anyway, it’s over and now it should be smooth sailing for the city, except for that little issue about the budget…