Members of the Los Angeles Airport Commission and spokesmen for a major airport contractor on Wednesday defended controversial concessions agreements awarded to politically well-connected minority community leaders.
At the commission's first meeting since a dispute erupted last week over how minorities were brought into lucrative airport gift shop and cafeteria contracts and what role they play in the businesses, Samuel Greenberg, the panel's chairman, sought to deflect criticism. He said the commission was "not involved in the selection of minority firms" participating in the concession agreements. While the commission approved several agreements in 1986, 1987 and 1988 to bring more minority partners into the concessions businesses, Greenberg insisted that the selection of those partners was made "solely by the prime" concession contractors.
Commissioner Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., who led a push to increase the share of the concession contracts going to minority firms, echoed Greenberg's remarks. "No one's getting any favors here," he said.
Neither Greenberg nor Cochran addressed a key issue in the controversy: the specific roles that the minority partners play in the businesses.
But Greenberg, citing the controversy, added: "We will re-examine the programs and will ascertain what additional direction may be given to the contractors involved."
The concession agreements, which in some cases were awarded to minority partners without competitive bids, are under review by airport officials because they may lack the type of participation for minority partners required by city and federal programs. The City Council is also considering ordering an independent audit of the contracts.
U.S. officials and aides to Mayor Tom Bradley have said that federal rules, which apply to the concession contracts, require minority partners to take direct responsibility for "clearly defined portion of the work to be performed." A goal of the city's contracting program for minorities and women is to provide these groups with the experience and expertise to some day compete for business on their own.
But The Times reported that the role of some of the prominent minority partners, including Los Angeles Urban League President John Mack, clergyman H. H. Brookins and Betty Dixon, wife of House Ethics Committee Chairman Julian Dixon (D-Los Angeles), appears to be limited. In most cases, they got into the contracts for little or no cash and are paid a percentage of the profits.
Clarence Daniels, vice president of corporate development for the food concession's prime contractor, Host International Inc., told the commission Wednesday that "our partners are meaningfully involved." Some of the partners described their activities, such as touring Host facilities, attending Host committee meetings, receiving reports on Host management strategies and recommending minority employees and vendors to Host. In a memo to the department, Host described part of the minorities' role as serving on a "political action committee" and "help Host politically."
Daniels on Wednesday insisted that the memo referred to what was actually a community relations role by helping "to get word out on the success of the program."
"It's given me an opportunity to understand completely how the food business operates," said one minority partner, Earl E. Gales.
The airport department's minority business officer, Barbara Williams, had raised concerns about the level of minority participation in the concession contracts as the various agreements came up for approval. She said Wednesday that she will continue to press Host and a gift shop contractor for more specifics about the role of the minority partners and prepare her own report on the questions being raised.