Taking Its Toll

Labor STRIFE, racial tension and a "disadvantaged" owner who drives a Mercedes: between the lines of DIA's controversial parking contract.

Shortly after the NLRB filed a complaint of unfair labor practices against the company this past fall, the union fired a broadside of its own at a council meeting, challenging the company's treasured quarterly bonus. At that point several city council members, including Ramona Martinez, had apparently had enough. They joined the union in questioning whether Colorado Parking should receive a bonus. "We wanted them to resolve the problem," says Martinez. "I was really surprised Colorado Parking didn't want to sit down and work out a contract."

Shortly after the firm's bonus was challenged, the company agreed to do just that. But Clark denies that the city tried to sway him to recognize the union.

"We didn't feel under pressure from city council at all," he says. "I told the council I'd meet with the union at any time and any point. If the employees want a union, they should have a union. We're looking forward to getting a contract with them and settling this."

As things stand now, Colorado Parking begins each fiscal year secure in the knowledge that it can't lose money at DIA. That's because its three-year contract with the city includes a provision that the company will be reimbursed by Denver for all expenses, including employee salaries.

The company's profit comes from a $10,500 monthly management fee--and from a quarterly bonus that is awarded based on its ability to provide a "courteous, efficient, first-class operation." Criteria for determining the bonus includes the number of customer complaints, the amount of employee turnover, the number of minority employees on the payroll and the frequency of delays in excess of seven minutes at the toll plaza. A three-person committee determines the size of the bonus, which is not supposed to exceed .745 percent of net parking revenues. Clark serves on the committee, along with DIA parking director Dorothy Harris and United Airlines business manager Joe O'Brien.

Denver aviation director Jim DeLong says having Clark serve on the committee that determines his own bonus is not out of line, since the concessionaire represents just one vote out of three. "If Colorado Parking had two thirds of the vote, that would be a mistake," says DeLong. "But for a representative of that company to be there is not unreasonable."

Last year, the airport took in more than $44 million in parking fees, meaning Colorado Parking was eligible for as much as $327,800 in bonuses, as well as $126,000 in management fees. Given Clark's 40 percent interest in the company, he theoretically would have stood to earn more than half a million dollars over three years--not a bad return for an initial investment he's been quoted as saying was "in the tens of thousands of dollars."

The city, however, has been critical of the company's performance and hasn't given Colorado Parking its full bonus. DeLong makes no secret of his dissatisfaction with Colorado Parking in the period after DIA opened. "The performance was not as high as it should have been," he says. But the airport boss says he's seen "significant improvement over the past months. I've seen it in the lines at the cashier booths. They did an excellent job over the Christmas holidays."

The bonus committee apparently shared DeLong's view of a company on the upswing. City records show that, despite its record of controversy, Colorado Parking received $117,422 in bonuses during the first three quarters of 1995, along with its monthly management fees. (The amount of the fourth-quarter bonus, if one is awarded, has not yet been determined.)

And while Clark may not take an active role in the day-to-day management of the company, he diligently pursued the investment opportunity. Colorado Parking, a joint venture between Parking Company of America and Clark's Front Range Parking Company, won the highly sought-after airport parking contract in 1993 only after a long and tumultuous political battle.

The airport staff was already screening new parking contractors when Webb first strode into city hall in his size-twelve sneakers. There was a scramble to win the contract when the city opened it up for bids in 1991, and several friends of the mayor managed to be first in line for the goodies.

A selection committee reporting to former aviation director George Doughty recommended one firm for the parking contract, but that decision was overruled by city hall. "Under the Pea administration, when the director of aviation made a recommendation, it was usually approved," says former assistant director of aviation Ed Trommeter. "In this case, there was a significant amount of involvement from the mayor's office."

In the fall of 1992 the city announced that it had settled on a new parking contractor. The winner was a partnership put together by Parking Company of America that included Morris Clark and several friends and supporters of Webb, among them former Denver Bronco Odell Barry and Julia Gayles, a Democratic party activist and longtime friend of Wilma Webb. A public uproar followed the revelation that Barry and Clark put up just $65 and Gayles just $25, for a combined 45 percent interest in the parking concession. For this pittance, the partners stood to make hundreds of thousands of dollars over the three-year life of the agreement. The contract even included the provision that the majority partner, Parking Company of America, would pay all startup costs.

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