A bit of drama this morning at the normally-sleepy Little Rock Airport Commission meeting. Before getting on to other business, the commission allowed a representative from airport food and beverage contractor HMSHost to give a report on their search for minority-owned businesses to provide the contractually-obligated 15 percent of the retail sales and 15 percent of the food concessions.
Steve Douglas, an HMSHost VP, told the commission that the two minority firms originally considered for the concessions subcontract hadn't panned out, and that HMSHost was moving forward to give former Ark. Dept. of Environmental Quality chief Marcus Devine and his firm Adevco both the retail and food concession contracts (Commissioner Tom Schueck, who has ad business dealings with Devine, removed himself from the room during the discussions).
Commissioner Carl Johnson said he was troubled by the idea of giving both subcontracts to one minority-owned firm. He went on to say that Adevco had originally been partnered with Stacy Williams of Little Rock, and that Devine had told the commission — when asked about his experience in retail and food concessions — that Williams had all his firm's experience in that field. "Once he got that [retail] contract," Johnson said, "Stacy Williams is no longer a part of the group."
Further, Johnson questioned Devine's financial fitness for the job, pointing a federal bankruptcy in his past. Johnson then brought up the idea of allowing the Dennis Group, a minority owned food-service company based in Mississippi — partnered, not coincidentally, with Devine's old partner Stacy Williams — to have time to study the
airport's requirements and make a pitch to HMSHost (to which several commissioners spoke up to remind Johnson that the issue of which minority firms to hire was totally in the hands of HMSHost).
In response, Devine played up his five years at ADEQ, but admitted that his experience in retail and food concessions was limited to selling popcorn, hot dogs and T-shirts at Barton Coliseum when he was 16. Asked if he had any silent partners in his play for the airport contracts -- which will require $600,000 initial outlay for equipment and staffing -- Devine said that he and his wife were the sole partners of Adevco, and had acquired financing from local banks. He did not address the issue of his past bankruptcy.
In the end, commissioner Virgil Miller brought things to a pointed close. He said that while the 11th-hour attempt by the Dennis Group to enter the process smacked of "sour grapes," he also criticized HMSHost for what he called "terrible due diligence" in their attempts to locate and screen minority subcontractors for the retail and food concession subcontracts. "Host, you need to just handle your business the way you need to and keep us out of this mess," he said.