Politics & Policy

Denver Corruptocrats’ Chick-fil-A Smokescreen

Lobby of Denver International Airport (Mitchblatt/Dreamstime)

Holier-than-thou liberals on the Denver City Council are waging war on Chick-fil-A in the name of tolerance and diversity. Now, let me tell you what the squawking is really all about: It’s a distraction, a feint, a mile-high smokescreen.

Spiteful Democrats claim they are upholding progressive “Denver values” by delaying approval of an airport concession contract with the Christian-owned restaurant chain. But the politically correct storm over same-sex marriage (which Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy personally opposes) is convenient cover for the local government’s serial mismanagement, bloated spending, and shady contracting practices.

Denver International Airport concessionaires raked in more than $322 million in gross revenue last year amid longstanding complaints of political favoritism and dirty dealing that date back to the facility’s construction in the mid-1990s.

You should know that while Denver’s city-council leftists falsely accuse Chick-fil-A of discriminatory practices, they’ve been embroiled in litigation over bid-rigging allegations involving a separate $53 million airport concessions contract. Last fall, a retail group filed suit against the city-council rubber-stampers and Denver International Airport officials for allegedly conspiring to help the winning bidder snag a seven-year deal to run the airport’s duty-free shops.

Gaming the airport contract system is as popular a Colorado pastime as skiing and rock-climbing.

The plaintiffs in the case, DIA Retail, uncovered what they call “systemic” misconduct and manipulation of the award process, including multiple violations of rules prohibiting contact between the winning bidder, Hudson Group, and government officials after submitting their request for proposal.

Then there’s the city’s own audit of the airport’s “disadvantaged concessionaire program” released in May, which showed that Denver officials are much better at preaching to others about “diversity” than practicing it themselves. After finding that half of DIA’s food and beverage revenue was concentrated in the hands of three operators, the auditor exposed “questionable” financial-wealth claims by some concession owners certified by the city as “economically disadvantaged.”

Gaming the airport contract system is as popular a Colorado pastime as skiing and rock-climbing.

In April, a jury indicted city employee Larry Lee Stevenson, a supervisor in Denver’s Excise and Licensing Department, for allegedly accepting a cash bribe to help a local business get a deal to run parking operations at the airport. DIA’s nearly $40 million “minority-owned” mechanical-construction contract, which the city awarded to black businesswoman Denise Burgess, is a massive front for non-minority subcontractors, according to a Denver Post investigation last year.

“Burgess Services is not equipped to carry out a mechanical project. It subcontracts the construction work to other companies,” the paper found. “Yet the entire contract value counts toward the airport project’s overall minority- and women-owned business-enterprise participation goal of 30 percent. In reality, minority- and women-owned businesses are doing only a fraction of the work on Burgess’ contract.”

And the cost of that work keeps soaring.

DIA overspending is epidemic. Another scathing audit identified skyrocketing cost overruns in the airport’s hotel and transit construction project — scheduled to soar from an initial estimate of $500 million to at least $730 million — thanks to shoddy recordkeeping and nonexistent oversight.

What kind of financial controllers are at the wheel? Fraudulent accountants like Laura Trujillo, who was fired earlier this summer after the Mountain States Employers Council concluded that “there was no record of Trujillo ever having a CPA license, no record of her ever having applied for such a license, and no record of her ever having applied to take the CPA exam in Colorado.”

Perhaps the sanctimonious Denver City Council should spend less time finger-wagging at other businesses and more time minding its own sordid henhouse.

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