Friday, December 21, 2012

Airport vendor drops legal action against city over concessions process

Posted By on Fri, Dec 21, 2012 at 1:00 PM

DISMISSED SSP America alleged bidding process had flaws, mayor interfered in process
  • Tara Lynne-Pixley/CL File
  • DISMISSED SSP America alleged bidding process had flaws, mayor interfered in process
An airport concession company that took City Hall to court over last year's selection of restaurants and retail stores at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport withdrew its legal action on Wednesday.

In 2011, SSP America, a subsidiary of an international concessionaire that oversees airport shops and eateries in Abu Dhabi, New York, and Zurich, submitted a proposal to open several concepts in the world's busiest airport.

The hypercompetitive procurement process attracted bids from major airport vendors vying for lucrative spots selling food, neck pillows, and other items inside Hartsfield-Jackson. But when the city announced the winners in Dec. 2011, SSP didn't make the cut.

The company protested the city's selection process, claiming that the bidding process was flawed and winning vendors' proposals contained errors. The company's lawyers also alleged that Mayor Kasim Reed interfered in the process, among other accusations. Some of the concessions winners were major campaign contributors and supporters of the mayor, who insisted that he played no role in the process.

After a city administrative hearing officer ruled in City Hall's favor in April, SSP took its case to Fulton County Superior Court. Following settlement talks with the city, however, the company on Wednesday dropped its complaint. A related legal action involving violations of the Open Records Act was also dismissed.

SSP's lawyers declined to comment, but in a company statement included with the city's press release about the dismissal, the firm said it "believes that it submitted a high quality response" to the airport's request for proposals in 2011. The company acknowledged that "the hearing officer determined there to be no evidence of any wrongful activity on the part of [Reed], the Atlanta City Council, or any city employees in the bidding process or the awards. SSP will not receive any monetary damages or other compensation of any kind."

The firm did, however, recoup the estimated $272,000 it posted as a bond to file the protest.

William Perry, the executive director of Common Cause of Georgia, the government watchdog group that butted heads with the mayor during the process about ethics and transparency, said he was "disappointed" by the news. He felt the legal action "was the last opportunity for people to go into a courtroom, raise their right hand, and swear under oath that all we've been told was true."

The city considered the company's decision to drop the legal challenge - the last one the city faced about the process - as a major victory.

"SSP has now publicly acknowledged what we have known to be true all along: No City elected official or employee acted improperly in connection with the food and beverage contracts awarded at Hartsfield-Jackson," the mayor said in a statement. "We are happy to put this distraction behind us and look forward to improving and expanding [the airport and international terminal] as a gateway to the world."

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