Airport contract deal too secretive?

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Houston City Council is set to vote Wednesday on a 10-year, $1.5 billion airport concession deal that was judged behind closed doors and that has sparked questions about the perceived coziness between the contract's winners and city hall, an ABC-13 investigation has found.

The deal would allow a small group of well-connected power brokers to sell travelers passing through Bush Intercontinental and Hobby airports everything from bagels to barbeque to clothes to coffee with the potential of millions of dollars of profit for the winning bidders.

Critics have suggested more transparency is needed for such a giant deal.

"It should be transparent," said Jim Noteware, a former cabinet member for Mayor Annise Parker and now a columnist for the Houston Business Journal who writes about the city of Houston. "Every step of the process should be transparent so that any interested citizen theoretically should have access to all the invitations, to all the qualifications of the prospective bidders, the scoring mechanism and who the evaluators are that provide the scoring."

The process has been largely hidden from public view. The bids submitted for the contracts were judged by a committee of Houston Airport System employees who came up with a group score to pick the winners. Neither the names nor the resumes of the judges have been made public. A spokeswoman for the mayor told ABC-13 that the names of the judges were hand-delivered to city council members Friday.

This information was only provided after weeks of asking, not only by ABC-13 but by city council members, as well.

And while Mayor Annise Parker has long defended keeping the airport concessions process secretive, her views apparently shifted after she became mayor.

This month, Parker called the process "bullet-proof" and "the smoothest I've ever seen."

That's a reversal from 2002, when Parker, then a member of city council said this about a previous, contentious airport concession bid process, according to the Houston Business Journal: "When you try to keep it quiet and deal in private, it creates an information vacuum. And all sorts of rumors rush in to fill the vacuum."

Watch the full report tonight at 10 pm.
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