By Matt Dixon, August 30, 2011
A committee Tuesday voted 3-0 to reject an appeal filed by a taxicab company over a roughly $2 million exclusive contract to serve the airport.
Checker Cab of Jacksonville argued that Gator City Taxi was not eligible to receive the five-year contract, in part, because Gator City's parent company was playing a "shell game" and was not on stable financial footing.
Gator City had received a Jacksonville Aviation Authority awards committee recommendation in June and was the only other company eligible for the contract. It held the previous five-year deal that gives it exclusive rights to pick up passengers.
Attorney Paul Harden, representing Gator City, swatted each of Checker Cab's claims to the committee's satisfaction. Members agreed that Checker Cab's arguments did not meet the airport's guidelines for accepting an appeal.
"There has to be some kind of showing of dishonesty, illegality, fraud, oppression or misconduct. ... There is none of that in the record," said Debra Braga, with the Jacksonville Office of General Counsel.
Checker Cab claimed that West Palm Beach businessman Cullan Meathe, who for the first contract owned the rights to Gator City through parent company Jacksonville Transportation Group, closed that company's doors and reopened under another name solely to escape costly legal judgments. Checker pointed to $251,000 a judge awarded to a man who was injured by a Meathe-owned taxicab. The issue is still pending.
"The Jacksonville Transportation Group closed its doors, transferred all its assets ... opened up the next day with the same employees and same taxicabs and refused to pay Mr. Wilson," said Geoffrey Heekin, who represented Checker Cab.
Gator City is now owned by Peninsula Transportation Group, which was incorporated in July 2010. Meathe says he has no ownership stake in the company. A Times-Union review of state records showed his name as the only manager on incorporation papers.
Heekin said that the contract required the new company to own Gator City for a three-year period to be eligible. Braga disagreed, saying that the winning company only needed to be "managed or owned" by the applicant for three out of the past 10 years.
During Harden's presentation, he pointed to the fact that Gator City's application outscored Checker Cab's by an 85-73 margin. Scoring is based on a 100-point scale.
"The rankings by the committee were not even close," he said.
Heekin also argued that millions of dollars in legal judgments against Meathe and other companies he owns left Gator City unable to satisfy a provision in the contract that required the winning company be sound financially.
Harden said that claim, and others, made by Checker Cab had been vetted by the airport officials and found to either be false or irrelevant to the current contract talks. "There is no allegation that the awards committee acted clearly erroneously, that they acted fraudulently or they acted dishonestly," he said.
In a testy moment, he also took a shot in at Heekin, who he said initiated the questioning of Gator City with an anonymous letter.
"Everyone figured out pretty quickly who the anonymous letter was from," Harden said.
The recommendation now goes to executive director Steve Grossmann, who has final say.