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February 13, 2013

Split Council approves agreement with L-3

GREENVILLE — A split City Council voted Tuesday to approve a non-disclosure agreement with L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, prior to negotiations starting on a new lease agreement for the defense contractor at Majors Field Municipal Airport.

Council member Dan Perkins voted against the measure, because it leaves the majority of the Council and city staff members he believed would be key to the negotiations out of the initial phases of the process.

“I just think this agreement just goes way too far for me,” Perkins said. “This just seems unreasonable to me.”

Mayor Steve Reid said the agreement was a move to help build a feeling of trust with L-3 and noted the entire Council would be briefed if and when it would be time to consider whether to approve any lease.

“At some point there needs to be a team that brings a recommendation,” Reid said. “We have to start from somewhere.”

Council member Velma Del Bosque-Hobdy also wondered why certain individuals were not being included in the start of the negotiations process.

“Is it customary that we leave the city manager out, that we leave the city staff out of any lease agreement with anyone, regardless of the value of the company?” Del Bosque-Hobdy asked.

Reid credited City Manager Steve Alexander for not recommending that he be brought into the initial negotiations.

“He has not put himself above the desires of L-3 and the city,” Reid said.

Alexander admitted it was not customary to be on the outside looking in.

“But this is not a usual situation,” Alexander said. “I work directly for the Council.”

Last month, the Council voted to grant a professional services agreement with Taylor Olson Adkins Sralla Elam for legal matters with respect to the airport lease.

The airport covers approximately 1,500 acres. L-3 leases much of the airport property from the City of Greenville, with the original lease agreement reached in 1977. The lease agreement is up in 2017.

The Council passed an ordinance Tuesday “approving a non-disclosure agreement with L-3 Communications governing the negotiation of a new lease for Greenville Municipal Airport -Majors Field.

According to the language in the ordinance, during the lease negotiations the two parties will be exchanging information that is “considered highly sensitive and confidential.”

City Attorney Daniel Ray said L-3 was seeking the agreement due to issues of not only national security, but also to protect certain financial details from other defense contractors, “looking for ways to create a competitive advantage by using that information.”

The agreement would allow the current L-3 Committee of the Council — made up of Reid, Jeffrey Dailey and Dr. Joe Perks — to be privy to the initial phase of the negotiations, alongside the attorneys from Taylor Olson.

Once a proposed lease agreement is drafted, it would then be presented to the entire Council, likely in executive session, before a vote would be scheduled.

“How can I make a decision on that if I don’t know the basics,” Perkins said. “The final vote on the lease needs to be an informed decision.”

Perkins said the non-disclosure agreement also would exclude Public Works Director Massoud Ebrahim, who Perkins said has a great deal of experience in helping oversee the operations of the airport.

“And that seems very harmful to me,” Perkins said.

But Dailey responded that Perkins was part of an earlier L-3 committee, alongside former Mayor Tom Oliver and former Council member Bryan Herrin, who worked alongside the Jackson Walker law firm in drafting a previous proposed lease agreement.

“Everybody was shut out besides you three,” Dailey said. “You were OK with it then, but you are not OK with it now.”

Perkins reminded Dailey that he received information from all of the meetings, although Dailey denied that he had been kept up to date on the issue.

“Then you haven’t read the material that was prepared for you,” Alexander said.

Dailey replied that the previous administration had struggled with the L-3 lease situation for three years with nothing to show for it.

“And in six months we’ve managed to stop the absolute bleeding of the taxpayers,” Reid said. “Lets move forward.”

The vote was 4-2 in favor of approving the non-disclosure agreement, with Perkins and Del Bosque-Hobdy against.

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