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Process for concession stand work questioned
Job at Central Park drew much interest
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Forsyth County News


A job perceived as low in profile and profit drew an unprecedented level of interest this year in Forsyth County and has left at least one suitor questioning the process.

"I was confused as to why the winning bid was accepted because to me, financially, it didn't make a lot of sense," Randall Bowman said.

Bowman owns First Club Marketing, known as Deep South BBQ, which county records show finished second in the hunt to run the Central Park adult complex concession stand.

The job went to Big Help Concessions, which is owned by Chris Stovall, who happens to serve on the county's parks and recreation board.

The parks board does not have influence over contracts; rather a three-person selection committee of parks employees makes the determination.

And Stovall had been running concession stands for area booster clubs for years prior to his appointment to the board.

Jerry Kinsey, the county's parks and recreation director, marveled at the turn of events with the concession stand.

He said the department has previously had difficulty getting people to run this particular stand, the only one that goes out for proposals through the county's formal process.

"This is the first year we've just had people just go crazy over this concession stand," Kinsey said. "Maybe it's because of the economy and everybody needs work.

"It used to be that we kind of had to beg for it. People would act like they were doing us a favor for running the concession stand. Now we've got people fighting for it."

Kinsey said the concession stands at other county parks are turned over to the various booster clubs to operate as they see fit to raise money for youth athletic programs.

Since there's no adult booster club, the one stand at Central Park is offered out to companies to rent from the county.

Through the competitive proposal process, Kinsey said the county will typically receive between $3,000 and $7,000 per year in rental fees for the stand.

Revenue is just one of several categories factored into the review process, and this year the selected operator did not promise the biggest return, or most money.

Big Help offered either $5,000 or 7 percent of total sales, whichever is higher, while Deep South offered $5,000 plus 10 percent of gross sales from tournaments.

Bowman estimated his offer would equate to more than double what Big Help promised.

Following the decision, he submitted an open records request to view the proposals and the process by which the committee selected a winner.

"I don't think that the whole process works correctly," he said. "I had issues with notification."

In a letter to several county officials, Bowman wrote that Big Help likely will gross more than $200,000 from its stands throughout the county.

Stovall, as owner of Big Help, runs nine stands in the county, eight through booster clubs and the lone adult stand. He said the business isn't a very profitable one.

Once fees, sales tax, liability, paying workers and other costs add up, "it's not very much" money, said Stovall, who works full time as a pastor.

"I don't even make a part-time living off of this," he said. "Mostly, I do it to help the booster clubs out because nobody wants to do it."

Stovall has been in the booster club concession stand business for about six years, well before Commissioner Brian Tam appointed him to represent District 2 on the parks board in August 2010.

Stovall said the board does not have influence over the county's dealings with its concession stand.

In the case of youth booster clubs, he said, those groups deal directly with businesses they contract out their stands to for a fee or percentage of profits.

The county's stand works a little differently, Stovall said, since the process to select an operator is much more formal.

Donna Kukarola, the county's purchasing director, said the concession stand process does not require county commission approval because it doesn't involve spending money.

The selection committee, which in this case consisted of three senior parks staff members, looked at several categories, weighted by points.

The members included Kinsey and Wayne Maddox and Tommy Bruce.

The categories were weighed as follows: similar experience (10 points), food service experience (15), qualifications and staffing (15), menu (10), references (10), costs for customers (20) and the proposed lease (20).

Big Help's proposal edged Deep South BBQ's by just a few points. All three committee members ranked Big Help first and Deep South second of the five bids, records show.

Stovall speculated that experience could have been the factor that gave him the edge.

The adult concession stand has had some issues in the past.

Kinsey said the stand has had a lot of turnover since the park opened in 2001, with about five or six different businesses operating it.

"They get in and think they can make money, and then they don't and they leave," he said.

The most recent operator left in mid-contract last year, he said, an issue that is currently being pursued in Dawson County Magistrate Court.

After the former operator departed, Stovall said the county asked him if he could step in and help out for the remainder of the year.

As to whether Stovall's appointment on the parks board could cause conflicts with his business, Kinsey said: "Some think there are and some think there aren't. That's everybody's opinion, I guess."

That wasn't a concern for Bowman, but he did highlight other issues in his letter to county officials, such as other proposals not following the guidelines for submittal.

"I believe the bid winner has done some great things for our county and has done a far better job than many operators in the past," he wrote.

"But most importantly, I believe when you put any project or service out to bid, you have to compare apples to apples and the process has to be fair across the board."

In his letter to the county, Bowman also raised the concern that the adult complex concession stand did not appear to be up to par with health regulations at last look.

Stationary concession stands, like those at county parks, are exempt from the state health code, said Gary Helmuth, environmental health specialist at the Forsyth County Health Department.

"As a result, they're not permitted or inspected through the health department," Helmuth said.

Any complaints the department receives are forwarded onto the county parks and recreation department, he said.

According to the county's latest contract with Big Help, the stand "must follow health department guidelines for operating."