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Supervisors Meet to Consider Firing Tardy Airport Contractor


SANTA ANA — The London-based builder of the troubled $60-million John Wayne Airport terminal flew its top U.S. executive in from New York on Wednesday as Orange County supervisors huddled again to consider firing the firm over construction delays.

Richard Johnson, president of Taylor Woodrow Construction California Ltd., arrived in the afternoon, according to county officials, as supervisors met with legal advisers and airport staff for the second day behind closed doors.

At the same time, Judy Johnson, a former supervisor's aide now with the Irvine public relations firm of Thomas Wilck Associates, visited supervisors' offices on Taylor Woodrow's behalf, assuring officials that company executives were standing by, ready to answer questions.

When contacted by telephone, Judy Johnson declined to comment in detail. "We are not going to talk about our communications with our client," she said.

Taylor Woodrow Senior Vice President William Ostfeld and the company's on-site project manager, Chris Elliott, spent two hours Wednesday afternoon making the rounds of supervisors' offices. It was not immediately known if anyone from the British construction firm talked with veteran Supervisor Thomas F. Riley--in whose district the airport is located. Neither Riley nor Richard Johnson could be reached for comment.

On another front, the county's appointed Airport Commission convened Wednesday night and quickly went into a private session to discuss a legal memorandum with Airport Manager George Rebella and Assistant Manager Jan Mittermeier. California's open meetings law allows officials to conduct private session only when debating personnel or legal matters that might involve a lawsuit.

County officials, fed up with construction delays and cost overruns at the new John Wayne terminal, said action may be taken next week to help resolve differences with Taylor Woodrow, the project's general contractor. As of Wednesday, Taylor Woodrow became subject to fines of $25,000 a day because the terminal is still under construction. It was initially expected to be complete in February but now will open no sooner than September.

The contractor already faces more than $1.6 million in fines for late work on an uncompleted airport parking garage that was supposed to be finished last September.

Sources close to the Board of Supervisors said the Airport Commission decided Wednesday night to reject Taylor Woodrow's request for an extension on the project and a delay on the fines. Further toughening its stance, the commission recommended that the county review the firm's performance on a weekly basis.

Some sources said that county officials also are considering transferring a high-level county administrator to the airport to bolster the construction project's management. County officials declined to elaborate and Rebella, who earlier applied for airport management jobs in San Jose and Florida, did not respond to repeated phone calls.

The supervisors began debating the fate of Taylor Woodrow in a closed-door session on Tuesday, after two years of almost daily bickering between the firm and the county's project management team, which consists of airport officials and HPV, a consortium hired to oversee the entire $310-million airport expansion program of which the terminal and parking garage are a part.

The terminal project got off to an ignoble start when Taylor Woodrow submitted the lowest bid and it was still $17 million above the $42 million originally anticipated by the supervisors.

The supervisors decided to award the contract to Taylor Woodrow rather than rebid the project but only after everyone involved agreed to an intensive redesign effort aimed at trimming $10 million from the building's cost.

The county loses thousands of dollars a day in airline revenue for each day the building is late.

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