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Luck says the system works well for the vendors and there have been few complaints from that sector. "It's really self-policing," he explains, because "the minority vendors who are in there see the numbers every two months and know how the business is going, and have influence because they own a piece of it."
The Rockets have chosen a different food service model. As Ellis explained to the board, the Rockets will operate their own food and drink facilities and hire a consultant for advice on such items as food delivery, purchasing and hiring.
Luck says arenas the size of Houston's typically have food and beverage sales between $12 million and $15 million a year. By contrast, the Rockets' total projection for minorities' involvement in arena operations is barely $2 million. Several board members came to the conclusion that the food and drink profits are not being included in Alexander's 30 percent pledge.
Authority director Howard Middleton contends that "if we're going to ask all other people, all other companies, to share 30 percent of revenues with minorities, I think if the Rockets are going to develop another organization to run food service, then that ought to be part of the 30 percent."
In his presentation to the board, Ellis stressed that minorities would benefit from supplying goods and services to the arena rather than selling the prepared food itself.
"It is a new model for Houston," declared Ellis. "It means maybe somebody in the past who operated ABC Restaurant in an airport are gonna have an opportunity to do something they haven't done before."
His suggestion that restaurant operators settle for supplying meat or napkins to a Rocket-owned entity at the arena immediately provoked a backlash.
"I've had a lot of calls by the vendors," says Middleton. "They question me on that, and I can't answer it. The Rockets made a commitment to the community, and I want them to hold that commitment."
At the sports authority meeting, Ellis said that "you'll know when it's over whether or not we did it." Middleton's quick retort: "That's late."
The Reverend James Dixon II took part in the negotiations three years ago that led to the Rockets' promises. In a letter last week to sports authority general counsel Gene Locke, he called for a public meeting to revisit the issue.
"I, along with other African American community and business leaders, am concerned with the perceived direction the Houston Rockets seem to be taking," Dixon wrote. "It appears that there may be some variance in what their objectives are from the original agreement." He says Rockets officials have agreed to schedule a meeting within the next ten days.
During the sports authority session, Middleton warned Ellis that his deal with the Rockets could put him on the political hot seat if Alexander does not fulfill his commitments.
"If someone puts me in a position to which I'm embarrassed, I'm real loud, Howard," replied the senator. "When I put my credibility on the line, it ain't for a few little gold coins."
Judging by Rodney's well-documented history as a coin collector, it just might prove impossible to embarrass a politician who has no shame to begin with.