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Written by Jeff McDonald, Aug. 24, 2012

SAN DIEGO — In a sharp reversal of their years-old practice, San Diego city officials plan to divide security work at Qualcomm Stadium into separate jobs, recommending longtime contractor Elite Show Services for 24-hour patrols and rival Staff Pro for all events except Chargers football games.

Elite will continue to provide security for Chargers games under a separate contract with the NFL club.

The move, if it stands, could end a long-running dispute over how the city awards Qualcomm work.

The recommendation, formalized in a letter to the two companies Wednesday, is a major policy shift by the Mayor’s Office. Since 2006, city officials insisted that one firm needs to do both jobs to best protect the public and the stadium.

The decision came after Staff Pro protested a 2010 bidding process that originally awarded a five-year contract to Elite, which has provided security at the venue since it was known as Jack Murphy Stadium.

The recommendation may still be appealed, and the contracts are subject to City Council approval. Staff Pro expressed enthusiasm with the outcome, but cautioned that it’s not a done deal.

“I am sure Elite will protest,” said Cory Meredith of Staff Pro.

Elite Show Services did not immediately return calls or emails seeking comment about the decision.

The security contract became a disputed issue in 2009, when The Watchdog reported that city officials had quietly approved a 29-year, no-bid contract to Elite.

At the same time, the city disclosed that in 2006 it had begun requiring all stadium tenants to hire Elite to provide security, ushering and ticket-taking services at events in and outside the stadium. Several tenants complained that Elite charged too much for the type of service provided.

City officials subsequently pledged to put the security contract out to bid, but the process was stalled for years.

The 24-hour security contract was expected to be worth about $350,000 a year. It basically calls for two security guards to patrol the grounds 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

But the city’s practice requiring tenants to hire the same company for security and ushering services at all stadium events made the 24-hour security contract much more lucrative. The San Diego Chargers have a separate agreement with Elite for stadium security on game days.

Roy Nail, assistant manager at Qualcomm Stadium, said in an email Thursday that having the same contractor for round-the-clock security and non-Chargers events “is not a long-standing position of the Mayor’s Office.”

Stadium general manager Michael McSweeney has said in the past that the 24/7 contractor also should provide security for events to ensure public safety and consistency.

Nail noted in the email that one contractor was recommended in the initial request for proposals, which was protested, and the award to Elite was overturned.

“The ultimate award was protracted by a lengthy protest,” he wrote.

When the stadium-security contract was first out to bid in 2010, Elite was selected by a three-member committee, even though five other companies offered to do the work for less money.

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