Recently, the Atlanta City Council voted to accept a cram-down of $3.4 billion worth of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport concessions contracts. In one fell swoop, the Council approved bids for contractors to operate 150 restaurants and shops inside the airport’s sprawling complex. I call it a “cram-down,” because Council members were asked to accept a mystery committee’s recommendations, with no real opportunity to review the recommendations in earnest or even know the identities and/or possible motives of the committee members chosen to make the recommendations.
William Perry, director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause Georgia, led an unsuccessful campaign to convince the Council to delay the vote — at least until the Council had enough time to at least pretend to thoroughly review the recommendations. The request was based in part on the fact nearly half the $3.4 billion in contracts were going to four companies — headed by four men — who had contributed or played major roles in Kasim Reed’s campaign for Atlanta mayor. Common Causes’ cause was ignored. The Council voted 12-3 to accept the committee’s recommendations.
I’ve been covering the city of Atlanta for 15 years, and I’ve been following contracts at the world’s busiest airport since my first days on the job. I wasn’t surprised by the Council’s vote, or by Reed’s determination to keep the identities of the review committee’s members a secret. Why? The airport has two key purposes: One is to be the primary facilitator for domestic air travel connections in the U.S., which makes it the busiest airport in the world. The airport’s second function (but perhaps its most important) is to be the cash cow for contractors who want to earn money by building things and politicians who want to give them the opportunity to build things — in order to amass campaign contributions from those contractors — that help the politicians win office and stay in office.
This is the simple truth Atlanta’s mainstream media simply won’t tell you. When Atlanta leaders made the decision to build a new international terminal, the airport’s manager of ground transportation, Steven Yates, “blew the whistle,” and stated the obvious: Atlanta didn’t need a new international terminal, because the current international terminal (Concourse E) was nowhere near capacity. Yates produced evidence that of the 84 immigration stations on Concourse E, only 24 were generally put to use. That means Concourse E was — and apparently continues to be — far below full utilization.
If you don’t live in Atlanta, why should you care? Because if you use the airport, you’re going to pay for Atlanta’s $1.4 billion terminal through higher ticket prices. You’re also going to pay for the airport’s off-site rental car facility by paying more for your rental car.
Atlanta officials will bellow and howl about this column and throw all kinds of facts and figures your way claiming it isn’t accurate. If so, Atlanta leaders, answer this question: Why was Steve Yates fired after blowing the whistle? And after he sued you, why did you settle — with the provision that he keep his mouth shut about Atlanta’s $1.4 billion white elephant?
For great consumer advice and companies you can trust, go to www.TrustDale.com. Watch Dale Cardwell on TrustDale TV weekends on Fox 5; and don’t miss his new consumer problem-solving radio show on Saturday afternoons on WSB-AM News/Talk 750 and NOW 95.5 FM.