San Diego- Montgomery Field and Brown Field

Ex-airports boss sued by city attorney
Means broke contract rules, Aguirre contends
By Jeff McDonald and David Hasemyer
December 14, 2005

San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre yesterday sued former airports director Tracy Means, who was fired last month for her role in approving a slew of no-bid contracts awarded to a Florida consultant. Means clearly broke city contracting rules when she personally signed off on 14 purchase orders worth some $310,000 over the past five years, Aguirre said.

The company was paid a total of $218,527, and Aguirre wants the money back, with interest.

“We’re going to get every dime back,” said the city attorney, who has investigated a host of public officials since taking office last year. “It was never authorized. They circumvented the authorization rules.”

Means was in charge of operations at Montgomery Field and Brown Field, the city’s two municipal airports. She became the subject of a departmental investigation several months ago after a group of airport users and others reported numerous complaints to her supervisors at City Hall.

Former airports director Tracy Means “is indivi- dually liable to the city,” City Attorney Michael Aguirre’s lawsuit states.

The investigation culminated in a finding that Means improperly awarded contracts worth $310,500 to Airport Business Solutions of Tampa, Fla., between September 2000 and June of this year.

Aguirre said a misdemeanor criminal case opened by his investigators last month remains active. “This (civil suit) is completely separate,” he said.

Investigators concluded that Means steered 14 contracts to the Florida consulting firm even though she was warned by subordinates that doing so violated city regulations.

The lawsuit names Means, Airport Business Solutions and company executives Michael Hodges and Roberta Thompson. Means and Thompson are longtime acquaintances; they both serve on an industry trade association committee.

In one case, Means signed her boss’s name to a memo indicating that the work should be a “sole source” contract, the investigation showed. Virtually every h d j purchase order was just under the $25,000 ceiling Means was permitted to OK without additional approval.

The defendants “conspired to divide up the contemplated work into smaller purchase orders so that no competitive selection or bidding would be required,” the lawsuit states. “Tracy Means is individually liable to the city for the amounts of such demands.”

Means’ resignation was requested and accepted Nov. 14, one week after The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that she was under investigation.

The newspaper also reported that Means opened her own consulting firm earlier this year and failed to tell her bosses. The company, TM Consulting, was established in May, with Means’ home address listed in state records as the company headquarters.

Means quietly vacated her Montgomery Field office and has not responded to questions since. She did not return phone messages yesterday. Her house in Chula Vista is for sale.

Hodges and Thompson declined to discuss the lawsuit last night.

“If I’m being sued, it’s in my best interest to say, ‘No comment,’ ” Hodges said.

According to the lawsuit, the City Attorney’s Office did not become aware of the improperly awarded contracts until Nov. 7, when the Union-Tribune first reported the investigation into her contracting practices.

The city’s review concluded that Means could have selected any number of companies to perform the services, and that the reports and analyses by Airport Business Solutions were never implemented or even widely distributed.

What’s more, the quality of work was less than satisfactory, city workers told investigators. One employee said significant parts of the analyses were “boilerplate” language that was not specific to Montgomery or Brown fields.

Hodges has repeatedly defended the quality of his company’s work. Hired as airports director in 1997, Means quickly became the subject of complaints from tenants, pilots and others.

The city lost out on at least $1.8 million in federal grants when Means unexpectedly withdrew a grant application earlier this year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Federal regulators also determined that Means allowed too many companies that had nothing to do with flying to operate at the airports.

In August, the FAA barred Brown Field from receiving any more federal grants until the airport was brought back into compliance with federal rules. That position was softened after a series of meetings this fall.

The city also has paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought by tenants who were evicted under Means’ management.

Mario Sierra, director of the General Services Department, which has overseen the city Airports Division since July 1, said he could not comment on whether San Diego taxpayers deserved their money back.

“The focus of my investigation was not to determine whether the city should get reimbursed,” he said.

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