Attorneys for a losing contract bidder questioned the Atlanta airport’s concessions director and other witnesses in a hearing Tuesday, as they sought to show the manager had conflicts of interest that ensured companies with connections to Mayor Kasim Reed won lucrative deals.
Paul Brown,concessions chief at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, acknowledged having worked for and with some winning concessionaires, including the company now known as HMSHost, Hojeij Branded Foods’ Wassim Hojeij and Atlanta Restaurant Partners’ Daniel Halpern.
But Brown answered “no” when asked if his past relationships created any conflicts in the recent round of contract awards. According to the city’s procurement chief, evaluators were vetted for potential conflicts of interest.
Brown was questioned on the second day of an appeals hearing to collect testimony on complaints by losing bidders. The hearing is expected to continue into a third day.
The city last fall selected contractors to run some 150 restaurants and shops at Hartsfield-Jackson, including those in the new international terminal as well as existing spaces.
Among the arguments concessionaire SSP America Inc. is making is that Brown, one of the evaluators of the airport restaurant proposals, has worked for concessionaires in the past, creating a conflict.
Brown acknowledged that he “helped generate the list” of concessions evaluators and helped train other evaluators, along with serving as an evaluator himself.
SSP has argued that winning companies had “fatal errors” that were “consciously overlooked during the evaluation process in order to deliver a predetermined result.”
An attorney for the city, Mark Trigg, earlier called that “an absurd argument.”
Appeals hearing officer George Maynard noted that cities have “broad discretion” in procurement under Georgia law.
The appeals hearing is the second level of city consideration of projects. The city’s top procurement officer previously dismissed protests from losing bidders. Depending on the outcome of the appeals hearing, companies could later sue the city.