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City controller finds no fault with LAX contracts

The airports director didn't improperly sway selection of companies for modernization project, audit finds.

May 30, 2008|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

An audit released Thursday found no indication that Los Angeles airports director Gina Marie Lindsey improperly influenced the awarding of two major contracts related to the modernization of LAX.

The Los Angeles city controller's office concluded that airport staff followed correct procedures during the selection of DMJM Aviation Inc. of Florida and Denver-based Fentress Architects. The findings were similar to those of the City Council, which reviewed the contracts earlier this month.

"I really believe the council hearings and now this should put to rest any question of impropriety," City Controller Laura Chick said of the five-page report. "The contract awards were very appropriate, and airport officials followed their rules."

Chick, however, called for six measures, including more documentation of the selection process, that she believes will strengthen the airport's evaluation and selection process for awarding contracts.

"You want to be able to clearly explain for purposes of transparency, accountability and good government why this company and not that company was selected," Chick said.

The controller also recommended requiring written explanations for scoring and choosing companies, and procedures for requesting second reviews.

The Board of Airport Commissioners hired Fentress and DMJM earlier this year to work on a $5-billion capital improvement program for Los Angeles International Airport, including a midfield concourse and new gates for large aircraft on the west side of the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

Fentress, known for its innovative designs of airports, museums and other public buildings, received a three-year, $41.5-million contract for architectural services. DMJM obtained a one-year, $25-million contract to manage the modernization projects.

At issue was whether Lindsey had manipulated the evaluation and selection process to hire two firms with which she preferred to work.

Fentress had designed improvements to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport while Lindsey was airport director there. And DMJM Aviation's president, Loren Smith, was at Parsons Engineering when the firm was contracted to oversee the modernization of Seattle-Tacoma.

For the LAX contracts, Fentress and DMJM ultimately were recommended by airport review panels although other firms had scored higher on initial evaluations.

Fentress and DMJM prevailed after a second round of reviews in which panel members scored them higher than their competitors.

The city controller was trying to determine whether Lindsey pressured members of the evaluation panels to hold second reviews and reverse their initial findings. Auditors said they reviewed airport contracting procedures and all documents relevant to the evaluation, scoring and recommendations of companies for the contracts.

The controller's office also interviewed contract administrators and members of evaluation panels about the scoring of companies, Lindsey's role in the process and whether they felt any pressure from her.

Auditors concluded that airport contracting procedures allowed for second interviews of companies and that evaluators in each case wanted more information after the first evaluation.

"Based on responses provided by panel members during our interviews and our review of documents, we found no indication of undue pressure or influence during the selection process," the audit states.

Lindsey said Thursday that she was not surprised by the controller's findings and that airport management has resumed pushing ahead with improvements to LAX after dealing with the contract inquiries for several weeks.

"We are glad to have come through another review and that the selections were found to be clear and that the correct process was followed," Lindsey said.

Alan Rothenberg, chairman of the Board of Airport Commissioners, said the controller's recommendations are practical suggestions that can be easily implemented. "This may have been a painful process," Rothenberg said, "but it confirms our previous conclusions that Gina Marie acted properly and that we acted appropriately on two major contracts."

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dan.weikel@latimes.com

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