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Officials question LAX contract

Councilwoman wonders if the process was influenced by the airport director.

April 29, 2008|Dan Weikel and Jennifer Oldham | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles officials are questioning whether the top executive overseeing Los Angeles International Airport improperly influenced the hiring of an engineering firm to manage a $5- to $8-billion capital improvement program.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn said Monday that she wants to question airport executive director Gina Marie Lindsey about the awarding of a $25-million management contract in March to DMJM Aviation Inc. of Tampa, Fla., whose parent company is based in Los Angeles.

DMJM was selected by the Board of Airport Commissioners although Bechtel Corp. of San Francisco was initially recommended for the job during the evaluation process.

"We need to have some of our questions answered," said Hahn, who chairs the council's Trade, Commerce and Tourism committee that oversees LAX. Airport modernization "is so important I don't want any cloud hanging over our heads about the award of contracts. Let's have transparency and openness as we go forward in this process."

Lindsey said Monday that she welcomed Hahn's review and that there was nothing improper about her role in contracts related to the airport's capital improvement program. The projects include a new taxiway, a midfield concourse and the renovation of the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

"We are delighted we can talk to the councilwoman and address each and every one of her questions," Lindsey said. "We are happy to go through all of them. The firms were treated fairly."

Lindsey, however, said she would not elaborate on the contracts until after discussing them with Hahn. She also declined to comment on the subject of a confidential meeting held last week involving her and the airport commission's audit and ethics committee.

Airport sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said committee members questioned Lindsey about the DMJM contract. No action was taken by the panel after meeting in closed session for almost two hours.

Sources said the ethics hearing was at least partly prompted by an anonymous complaint letter from someone who appears to be a veteran employee of the city's airport department.

The letter, which began circulating last week at City Hall and the headquarters of Los Angeles World Airports, accused Lindsey of manipulating the contract process and pushing for the hiring of DMJM instead of Bechtel.

After weighing bids from competing companies, airport records show that on Jan. 9 an evaluation panel recommended four to one that Bechtel be awarded the project management contract.

Bechtel also was slightly ahead of DMJM in points earned during written and formal presentations to the review panel.

But for reasons airport officials would not explain, a second panel was convened Jan. 15-16, which voted 5 to 0 in favor of DMJM and awarded the company enough points to take a 43-point lead over Bechtel.

Airport records show that two airline representatives who had been on the first panel were no longer part of the evaluation process and that Lindsey attended the meetings to observe the reevaluation of DMJM and Bechtel.

The airport sources said Lindsey was unhappy with the initial recommendation of Bechtel and ordered the second review.

DMJM Aviation's president and chief operating officer, Loren Smith, as the member of another engineering firm, participated in a $3-billion project to improve Seattle-Tacoma International Airport when Lindsey was that airport's executive director. Sources said Lindsey liked Smith's work in Seattle.

Lindsey had left the Seattle airport and was working for a consulting firm in 2007 when she was picked by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to manage the city's network of airports, the largest of which is LAX.

Lindsey acknowledged that she had a good working relationship with Smith in Seattle but said that had nothing to do with DMJM's selection. She added that the scoring sheets and voting records for DMJM and Bechtel were "not the whole story."

Bechtel has not filed a formal protest to contest the bid process.

Lindsey said she usually does not sit in on evaluation panels if the recommendations are "slam dunks."

Hahn said she would ask the trade committee next week to approve the interview of Lindsey and set a time when she can be questioned. According to Hahn's office, she and Lindsey will meet today for a preliminary discussion.

"I want Los Angeles World Airports to come to the committee and explain how this contract was awarded," Hahn said. "Clearly from the score cards it looked like the other firm [Bechtel] had 26 more points and a vote in favor of recommending it."

Hahn also praised Lindsey's work since being appointed executive director.

"She has been a breath of fresh air," Hahn said. "She has understood how quickly we need to move forward. If she sat in on the evaluation, I don't necessarily have a problem with that. Maybe she had an insight that wasn't reflected on the score cards. We need to give her an opportunity to respond."

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