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Janice Hahn Concerned About Conflicts On LAX Concession Contract

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Thu, Aug 12, 2010 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge Janice Hahn: concerned and conflicted
  • Janice Hahn: concerned and conflicted
The Board of Referred Powers, the L.A. City Council body charged with ruling on the lucrative LAX concessions contract, held just its second meeting in as many months yesterday.

Not much got done, but Councilwoman Janice Hahn did say she was concerned about new allegations of conflict of interest.

Now, if you didn't know any better, you'd think she had just discovered that she had received $40,000 in contributions from LAX concession companies and their lobbyists, and was about to recuse herself.

But that's not the conflict she was concerned about.

No. Instead, she said she was worried about allegations brought by HMS Host, one of the losing bidders, against LAX. Those allegations are detailed here, but just to summarize: Host alleges that because LAX used a consultant, SmartDesign, to design its request for bids, and because SmartDesign has done architectural work for SSP America, the bid process is tainted and SSP should not be awarded the contract.

Only problem with that is that SmartDesign has also done work for Host. Applying the above logic, the bid process may well have been skewed in Host's favor, which would make Host's comprehensive defeat just that much more shocking.

It's clear that the airport staff thinks this is trivial bullshit, but Hahn and Board Chairman Tony Cárdenas are sufficiently concerned that they want the city attorney's office to take a serious look at it. Last week's scheduled meeting was canceled, and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has asked for 30 days to draft a response.

As long as he's taking that much time with it, he might as well examine his own ties to John Ek, one of Host's top lobbyists. According to lobbying disclosure reports, Ek sent out 55 invitations to a Trutanich fundraiser in February, and raised $3,000 for Trutanich's campaign. (Lobbyists are barred from directly contributing to city campaigns.)

He did the same for Cárdenas a few days later, raising $2,500. He also solicited $5,000 for Janice Hahn's council campaign in February 2009, and contributed $6,500 to Hahn's campaign for lieutenant governor. His wife, Esther Ek, also gave $6,500 to Hahn's state campaign, which was not prohibited from accepting lobbyist contributions.

So, fine, that's the system we have. But it takes some chutzpah to participate fully in that system, and then profess surprise and concern about somebody else's much less substantive conflict, especially when that concern works in favor of the company that contributed to you.

One council member who seems thus far blissfully uncorrupted by the process is Bill Rosendahl. At yesterday's hearing, he said he hasn't gotten around to reading a large stack of documents on the subject, because he only wants to know what he hears in the public meetings.

He also said he got so upset upon learning last week that the hearing would be postponed that he almost quit the board.

"I know one thing. This room is full of lobbyists, and they're out there with lots of grins and smiles," he said. "I'm nothing but frustrated by the backchannel crap that's going on."

As mentioned above, the board didn't get much done, other than to schedule its third meeting for Sept. 9. But that turns out to be Rosh Hashanah, so it will probably be postponed again.

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