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Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner Concludes Term with Airport Director Feud

In a glittering red tuxedo jacket, outgoing Mayor Sylvester Turner wrapped up his final City Council meeting, marked by a contentious exchange among council members. The culmination of this session saw the approval of an amendment, introduced by Vice Mayor Pro Tem Martha Castex-Tatum, that significantly curtails the authority of Houston’s airport director.

The amendment, passed in a 9-7 vote, weakens the Houston Airport director’s ability to unilaterally terminate food and beverage contracts. Turner emphasized that the proposal aims to enhance transparency in the city’s processes and protect against potential litigation. Previously, both the mayor of Houston and the director of the Houston Airport System held the authority to determine contract termination.

Turner defended the move, stating, “What I keep hearing from people is transparency, and then when you offer transparency, certain people don’t want it anymore. Why wouldn’t you want it? From the administration point of view, I’m not going to have the council have the final say if the council doesn’t want it.”

Criticism of the city’s contractual processes has been voiced by Turner’s successor, State Sen. John Whitmire, as reported by Matt Sledge at the Houston Landing. Councilmembers Michael Kubosh and Mike Knox opposed the measure, pushing for its delay until this week. They argued that it adversely affects the upcoming administration and does not serve the city’s best interests.

“I think this amendment is a bad idea and serves no useful purpose for the citizens of Houston, and it hampers our ability to administer these contracts because a threat of cancellation by convenience is a motivator for the vendors to perform well. By removing that, we remove that stick,” Knox expressed.

The amendment impacts four vendors: SSP America and Paradies Lagardere at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, and LaTrelle’s Galley and Areas at Hobby Airport. Local company Pappas Restaurant, critical of the city’s contract process, previously filed litigation against Houston after the conclusion of its long-standing tenure at Hobby Airport.

While Mayor Turner claimed victory for the airport concession contracts, he faced a setback in securing approval for funding the expansion of Terminal B at George Bush Intercontinental Airport for United Airlines. The vote has been deferred until the new city administration assumes control.