In a surprise move, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Thursday vetoed county commissioners’ decision to award a controversial contract to wrap baggage at Miami International Airport.
Last week, a veto-proof majority of the commission rejected Gimenez’s recommendation to hire TrueStar USA, the county-owned airport’s current vendor, and instead chose Safe Wrap, the second-place bidder that held the coveted concession for nine years until 2010.
Nine of 11 commissioners present at the March 5 meeting voted to reject TrueStar — more than the two-thirds majority required to override a mayoral veto. The board then voted unanimously to hire Safe Wrap.
But Gimenez vetoed both votes anyway — a move that will force commissioners to reconsider their decisions at their next meeting in April. Sustaining the vetoes would likely require a couple of commissioners to change their votes, depending on how many commissioners, and which ones, are present.
On Wednesday, TrueStar sued the county, asking the Miami-Dade Circuit Court to prohibit Gimenez’s administration from entering into a contract with Safe Wrap. The lawsuit argues that commissioners’ votes last week violated the county’s procurement process.
Thursday’s vetoes were the mayor’s first since January 2012, when he wielded his executive authority to disapprove of commissioners’ votes against imposing a contentious concession on the county’s labor unions. Without a supermajority to override the vetoes, the commission later imposed the concession.
The baggage-wrap vetoes will almost certainly reignite a political frenzy at County Hall, where the lucrative contract to encase luggage in clingy plastic to prevent theft has for years drawn packs of lobbyists.
“I don’t think what was done at that meeting was the right thing to do,” Gimenez told The Miami Herald. “We’re leaving a lot of money on the table. I don’t think it’s right.”
Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa said she did not know why the mayor would veto decisions made by a supermajority of commissioners — including herself.
“Maybe he has to make a point,” she said. “We voted consciously on what we were doing.”
Commissioners have said they preferred Safe Wrap because they could not trust the rosy projections from TrueStar, a corporate venture between the airport’s current vendor, Sinapsis Trading USA, and its giant Italian parent, TrueStar Group SpA.
Last year, Sinapsis asked the county to reduce the company’s minimum annual payment to the airport to $8.7 million, from $11.1 million, saying it could not follow through on its commitment because a competitor began wrapping bags at locations outside the airport. That competitor was Secure Wrap of Miami, the former airport vendor that joined forces with Safe Bag USA, a subsidiary of the Italian firm Safe Bag Italia SRL, to form the Safe Wrap corporate venture.
The commission agreed to reduce Sinapsis’ payment but also cut its contract to one more year and put out a new bid for the concession.
In his veto messages, the mayor defended the process his administration followed to recommend TrueStar, noting that a hearing examiner upheld his decision after Safe Wrap protested. Gimenez also cited a slew of figures, contending that hiring Safe Wrap could cost MIA $6 million in baggage-wrap payments in the first three years of the 10-year contract.
That’s because while Safe Wrap agreed to match part of TrueStar’s higher bid, it did not match all of it.
The baggage-wrap concessionaire must pay the airport a minimum annual fee or a percentage of its monthly gross revenues, whichever is higher. Safe Wrap matched TrueStar’s $9.6 million minimum annual fee but not its 65 percent, sticking to the 52 percent offered in its second-place bid.
That percentage is lower than the 56.5 percent Sinapsis, the current vendor, now pays. Gimenez has said that in months with heavy passenger traffic, the percentage of monthly gross revenues from wrapping baggage has exceeded the minimum required payment.
A potential $6 million loss to the airport could force MIA to raise the landing fees it charges airlines per 1,000 pounds of landed weight, Gimenez said.
“When you calculate that for every $300,000 in revenue that MIA is able to generate, they are able to lower their landing fee by one cent, this different equates to a 20-cent adjustment,” the mayor wrote. “Given that MIA’s landing fee is currently at $1.75, this is a significant impact.”
TrueStar’s lawsuit against the county also notes that the company would have paid the county more money.
“This is politics at its worst,” the court filing reads. “While the Commission has the discretion to award contracts, it cannot act in an arbitrary and capricious manner.”
Daniel Valdespino, Safe Wrap’s executive director, said the commission’s decision was justified because TrueStar’s projections were unrealistic.
“The fact is, this 65 percent is not credible. It is not believable,” he said.
Valdespino noted that the committee judging the baggage-wrap bids gave Safe Wrap a higher technical score. TrueStar placed first because it offered a higher payment. TrueStar later asked for the ability to raise per-bag wrapping fees; as part of last week’s award, Safe Wrap agreed to cap the fees at existing rates.
Safe Wrap also agreed to a contract provision limiting its ability to request a reduction to its minimum annual payment to the airport.
For its part, TrueStar praised the vetoes as “warranted.”
“We won the process,” Pablo Acosta, a lobbyist and lawyer for the firm, said. “We should have been awarded this contract. We were providing a much higher return to this county.”