Snapple Town

Deals in the Dark

New York is Snapple Country now, thanks to the first-ever marketing deal that makes the beverage firm the city's exclusive brand. But that's not the only novel aspect of the arrangement. A $126 million pact gives Snapple the sole right to place juice and water vending machines in city buildings, plant its happy-script logo on sundry city properties, and promote itself as the city's official brand. A separate $40 million agreement allowed the company to place its machines in city schools.

But despite their size, neither deal underwent the kind of scrutiny normally accorded such contracts—and city and state officials are asking why not.

Last week, attorneys for comptroller William Thompson were before Supreme Court Justice Richard Braun seeking to overturn the citywide marketing deal on the grounds that Mayor Bloomberg skirted proper procedures by refusing to submit it to the city panel charged with approving all franchise and concessions.

Why didn't it require a vote? Because the deal was for "intellectual property," not tangible property like a parking lot or a bus shelter, which clearly calls for a vote in the city charter, a lawyer for the mayor argued. Thompson's attorney countered that the charter's definition was intended to be much broader. "These are the kinds of matters that need to be exposed to the public," said Judd Burstein, who is representing the comptroller.

The Snapple schools contract also sailed through without the usual vetting process. The mayor's people have dual explanations for that one. On the one hand, the new Department of Education is still under state legislation that doesn't require registration of all contracts with the comptroller. Also, in the case of the Snapple agreement, it was "a revenue type contract," not one involving the expenditure of public monies, an agency spokesman said.

Either way, two state lawmakers, Assemblyman Jim Brennan from Brooklyn and State Senator Eric Schneiderman from Manhattan and the Bronx, are sponsoring legislation that would change the education department's procurement policy. Their bill would obligate the agency to register its contracts, and to put no-bid deals—which have tripled under Bloomberg's reign—before the Panel on Educational Policy that replaced the old board of education.

"There would be the opportunity for sunshine, advance notice, and debate, as well as the necessity for justifying what they are doing out there," said Brennan.

 
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