In her first public explanation of her role in a controversial LAX contract, Los Angeles airports Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey on Monday appeared to reassure airport commissioners that she did not improperly influence the hiring of a major engineering firm to manage airport modernization projects.
At issue is whether Lindsey manipulated the evaluation process to award a one-year $25-million contract to DMJM Aviation Inc., a Florida company that will oversee the capital-improvement program at Los Angeles International Airport.
The firm was selected by airport commissioners in March although Bechtel Corp. of San Francisco initially was recommended for the contract during the airport's evaluation process.
After weighing bids from competing companies, a review panel recommended 4 to 1 on Jan. 8 that Bechtel be awarded the project management contract, airport records show. A second review panel, convened Jan. 15-16, voted 5 to 0 in favor of DMJM.
Airport sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, have said that Lindsey was unhappy with the Bechtel recommendation and ordered the second review, which she attended.
But under questioning by airport commissioners at their regular board meeting Monday, Lindsey said members of the first evaluation panel wanted the second review because they were concerned they did not have enough information about either company.
She told commissioners she supported the idea so the evaluation panel could get all the facts before making a recommendation on which firm the board should hire.
Lindsey said she had no motive for attending the second hearing except "to see what was being asked and what the answers were."
Her explanation was backed up by Steve Martin, the acting chief operating officer for Los Angeles World Airports, who participated in the evaluation panels.
"After the first round, there was contention on the panel over whether we had all the facts," Martin told airport commissioners. "We thought about the option of a second review."
Martin said that during the second evaluation panel, members focused on how well the staffs of each company could work with the LAX staff as well as each firm's level of commitment to LAX.
At the board meeting, Lindsey also denied accusations that she wanted DMJM Aviation because she liked the work of its president, Loren Smith, who, as an executive of another company, had participated in the modernization of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport when she was executive director there.
"There was no relationship," she said.
The statements by Lindsey and Martin seemed to satisfy most members of the airport commission, which has been dealing with the controversy and media reports about it for more than a week.
They praised the review for its "openness and transparency" and reiterated their support for Lindsey, who was hired to jump-start the LAX modernization plan, which has been slow moving for decades.
"What we have been going through is healthy. The public can learn how contracts come to be," said Commissioner Walt Zifkin.
"I'd expect the executive director to be involved in the evaluation and recommendation process. To exclude her from the process is mind-boggling. It's a nonstarter for anyone."
Board President Alan Rothenberg agreed with Zifkin, saying he "wholly supported" the role of the executive director and that the review of the DMJM contract "reaffirms my confidence in the system.
"The rumor and gossip has been unfair," Rothenberg said. "I am 1,000% confident in the executive director and the staff. I'm sorry we have to go through this process, but I think we will be better off because of it."
The commission hearing is the first of several reviews of airport contracting scheduled for this week.
The Los Angeles City Council is to decide today whether to review and take jurisdiction over another LAX contract, awarded to Fentress Architects.
The council has the power to recommend to city departments that contracts be approved or rejected.
On Wednesday, two City Council committees will question Lindsey and other airport staff.
In addition, the city controller's office is reviewing the two contracts.