Miami-Dade commissioners override mayor’s MIA baggage-wrap vetoes

04/02/2013 6:00 AM

04/02/2013 8:44 PM

Miami-Dade commissioners upheld their decision to award a lucrative Miami International Airport baggage-wrap contract Tuesday, overriding a pair of vetoes by Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

The 11-1 vote marked the first time in Gimenez’s young administration that the board, flexing its collective political muscle, dismissed his executive action.

The coveted concession will go to Safe Wrap, the second-place bidder that last month matched the $9.6 million minimum annual payment offered by the first-place bidder, TrueStar. Commissioners selected Safe Wrap, which initially offered $9.1 million, saying they could not trust TrueStar’s rosy revenue projections from encasing luggage in clingy plastic to prevent theft.

TrueStar is a new corporate venture involving the airport’s current vendor, Sinapsis Trading USA, which last year asked for a reduction to $8.7 million from its $11.1 million payment to the county. The board reluctantly approved the request, but only with the condition that the contract be re-bid.

The concessionaire must pay the county the minimum annual fee or a percentage of monthly gross revenues, whichever is higher. Safe Wrap did not match TrueStar’s offer to provide 65 percent of the revenues, sticking to its 52 percent offer.

To justify his vetoes, Gimenez said that lower percentage could cost MIA some $6 million a year — a number Safe Wrap disputed. Gimenez vetoed two commission decisions: to reject awarding the contract to TrueStar, as his administration recommended, and to hire Safe Wrap instead. He said he hoped the board would consider requiring Safe Wrap to match TrueStar’s 65 percent offer.

But they did not, choosing Tuesday to uphold their decision to hire Safe Wrap, a joint venture that includes Secure Wrap, the company that brought the baggage-wrapping business to the airport and held the concession for nine years. Congratulatory back-slapping and hand-shaking ensued outside the County Hall commission chambers after the vote on the heavily lobbied contract.

“This is our home,” Secure Wrap President Radamés Villalón said. “We are ambassadors of Miami through this business.”

Gimenez issued the vetoes — only the second ones of his administration — despite knowing that a veto-proof majority of the commission had awarded the contract to Safe Wrap. But he Tuesday said he “had to make a statement.”

“I don’t think it was the right thing to do,” he said of the commission’s overrides. “Unfortunately, we’re going to leave $6 million on the table.”

Commissioners took care of business quickly, with less than 20 minutes of discussion.

Voting to override the vetoes were Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, Vice Chairwoman Lynda Bell, and Commissioners Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Audrey Edmonson, Barbara Jordan, Sally Heyman, Jean Monestime, Dennis Moss, Javier Souto and Juan C. Zapata. Commissioner Xavier Suarez cast the lone dissenting vote. Commissioner Bruno Barreiro was absent from the meeting.

“The previous decision stands,” Sosa said after the vote.

Then, without naming TrueStar, she chided a public-relations campaign the firm waged to try to persuade commissioners to support Gimenez. The company commissioned an automatic telephone call known as a robo-poll and sent voters a campaign-style mailer with Gimenez’s photo urging recipients to call their commissioner to back the vetoes.

Gimenez said he was unhappy to see his face on the mailer, which he did not approve.

“I hope that, in the future, when this contract is up for bid again, the commission who sits here doesn’t have to live what we have been living the past three weeks,” Sosa said, holding up what she said was a recording of the robocall, which she said confused people.

“I have never seen a discussion being brought to the residents, the seniors, of this county to concern them about an issue that has to do with a contract,” she added. “This is the first time in my political life that I have seen that happen.”

Her office received hundreds of calls from residents, Sosa said, before switching to Spanish to repeat her comments.

TrueStar had sued the county, seeking an injunction to prohibit Gimenez’s administration from entering into a contract with Safe Wrap. TrueStar argued that the commission’s award violated the county’s procurement process. The court dismissed the complaint two weeks ago, saying it was premature in light of Gimenez’s veto and the commission’s pending action.

Pablo Acosta, a TrueStar lobbyist and lawyer, said in an email to The Miami Herald Tuesday that the company was “disappointed but not surprised” at the vote.

“We are undeterred in prosecuting our rights in court and before the appropriate legal authorities,” he wrote.

In other business at the meeting, commissioners signed off on requiring the board’s auditor to complete a background check on any “person, organization, place or thing” under consideration for a naming — say, for a public street.

The action came on the heels of bad publicity surrounding Banah Sugar, a sugar processing company brought into Hialeah with great fanfare last July, promising to hire up to 300 workers. City and county leaders christened a stretch of Southeast 10th Avenue “Banah Sweet Way” in its honor.

Commissioners later found out that the firm’s owner had served prison time for cocaine trafficking. Banah filed for bankruptcy in February.

The board also approved a resolution from Commissioner Diaz creating a 17-member task force to recommend improvements to Citizens Property Insurance, the state’s insurer of last resort. Gimenez announced the creation of a similar advisory group at his “state of the county” address in February.

Florida lawmakers regulate Citizens, which has been increasing homeowners’ insurance rates and scaling back coverage.

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