Judge rules mayor can sign airport contracts, encourages change to bidding process

by: Richard Belcher Updated:

ATLANTA,None —

A Fulton County judge gave the city of Atlanta a major victory Monday with a ruling that cleared the way for Mayor Kasim Reed to sign contracts with companies that won concessions deals at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Channel 2's Richard Belcher said the judge also encouraged the city to make some changes in it contracting process.

The mayor's office said Reed signed the disputed contracts Monday morning. That means winning concessionaires can begin work on their stores. The city said that's vital because the new international terminal is set to open in mid-May.

But Judge Cynthia Wright also prodded the city to offer more to help losing bidders. The judge told Belcher she worked through the weekend to write the orders. Both the city and the losing bidders argued that her decision was critical.

Losing airport bidders wanted her to forbid the mayor to sign contracts now because they contend that would make it harder for them to get a fair appeal hearing.

"Damage to us is irreparable because … this court can't turn back time," said William Hill, an attorney for SSP America, the largest airport concessionaire in the world.

But the city convinced the judge that the losers have to complete their internal appeals with the city before going to court.

"They are trying to circumvent that system by being here today. The Georgia Court of Appeals has expressly ruled on this precise issue and said they can't do that," said Mark Trigg, lead counsel for the city.


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Barely an hour after Wright released her order the mayor's office announced that Reed had signed the contracts at the center of the dispute.

But the judge handed a partial victory to a losing bidder whose lawyer said it finished a close second and still doesn't have complete records showing how it stacked up against the winner.

"They have not answered why the financials don't make sense," Mike Bowers said.

Wright gave the city three days to deliver those records to Bower's client, Midfield Concessions. She also offered the city some non-binding advice.

"Providing frustrated bidders with independent subpoena power, controlled by the ... Appeals officer, would certainly be a step forward in furtherance of procedural due process and the promotion of public confidence in the decisions made by the city," Wright said.

Wright acknowledged that the court can't rewrite the city ordinance, but she suggested that changes would mean fewer airport cases in court.

She added, "As the saying goes, you can't get anywhere without going through the Atlanta airport and apparently, the airport can't get anywhere without going through the superior court."
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