San Diego- Embattled Airports Director Leaves Post

Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Embattled airports director leaves post
No-bid contract awards are under investigation
By David Hasemyer and Jeff McDonald
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune

Tracy Means, who has been under fire for months over her management of San Diego’s two municipal airports, has left her job. She cleaned out her desk at Montgomery Field late Monday. Tracy Means recently formed her own consulting company without notifying her bosses. It was unclear whether Means was fired or resigned under pressure, although comments by Councilman Jim Madaffer indicate she did not leave without being pushed.

“I strongly support the city manager’s decision,” Madaffer said. “I’m just sorry it took this long.”

City Manager Lamont Ewell released a two-sentence statement yesterday confirming that Means was “no longer a member of the city organization.” He did not elaborate and Means did not return phone messages seeking comment.

Means’ departure came one week after The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that she was the subject of an internal City Hall investigation into contracting practices within the Airports Division.

Investigators were examining 16 no-bid consulting contracts worth $225,000 that Means awarded to Airport Business Solutions, a Florida company whose executive vice president, Roberta Thompson, served on a trade association panel with Means. For the past five years, the Airports Division hasn’t hired any other consultants, although there are scores of firms – many of them local – that do the same work.

Neither Ewell nor Means’ supervisor, General Services Department Director Mario Sierra, would discuss the investigation or its findings yesterday.

The airports director said in earlier interviews with the Union-Tribune that she did nothing wrong. She said her superiors knew about and approved the contracts.

Both Sierra and William Griffith, Means’ previous supervisor, disagreed with Means’ contention that approval was given.

The newspaper report also revealed that Means, 40, recently formed her own consulting company without notifying her bosses at City Hall, an apparent violation of city policy.

She said the home-based business, TM Consulting of Chula Vista, offered expertise in real estate rentals. She said she didn’t need to notify her bosses about the business because it was unrelated to her work managing Montgomery Field in Kearny Mesa and Brown Field in Otay Mesa.

Means’ Montgomery Field office was closed yesterday while the Airports Division staff was told about her departure.

Sierra declined to say who might be named to replace Means or to confirm that the position would be filled.

“We have to determine how critical that position is to the operation of the city,” he said. “There will be a number of factors considered before making any decisions.”

Whether Means is replaced or not, airport business owners and pilots said her departure will help repair frayed relationships between the city and the flying community.

“With the departure of Tracy Means, a lot of the ill feelings and animosity toward the airports will be put behind us,” said Alan “Buzz” Fink, chairman of the Airports Advisory Committee. “Users of both airports can work with a new director for the betterment of the airports.”

Attorney Ronald Cozad of Carlsbad, who represents a number of airport tenants, praised the management change as a big step toward solving persistent problems.

Means “just didn’t have the best interests of the airport and the community at heart,” he said. “Now there’s a new team, a new spirit of cooperation and the city is doing the hard work it takes to revitalize the airports.”

A reorganization effective July 1 placed the Airports Division under the General Services Department, now managed by Sierra, whom many tenants consider to be more receptive to the challenges of operating an airport-related business.

Councilman Madaffer, who is chairman of the council’s Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee, which will meet today, called for a public review of airport operations earlier this year, after Means tried to evict longtime tenant Gibbs Flying Service from Montgomery Field.

Yesterday, Madaffer said he will ask both the city Ethics Commission and the district attorney to look into Means’ business practices. “There are a lot of questions that need to be answered,” he said.

Means’ departure follows a series of setbacks for the Airports Division beyond the widely unpopular effort to evict the Gibbs family, a move that was later reversed by the council committee headed by Madaffer.

Under her leadership, Brown Field lost a $1.8 million grant early this year when Means withdrew the application, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The Otay Mesa airport also had its eligibility for federal grants withdrawn in August because of its continued failure to comply with FAA rules governing airport operations.

Once Means began acting on FAA orders to evict the nonconforming tenants, the city began getting sued for breach of contract. So far, the city has paid at least $6.5 million to settle lawsuits related to Brown Field leases.

The airport’s grant eligibility was reinstated last month, although federal regulators still want the city to get rid of nonaviation businesses at Brown Field, such as auto-wrecking yards, a Border Patrol detention center and a customs broker.

In the meantime, the city has retained a Bay Area company to conduct a management audit of the Airports Division.

That report is not expected until the first of the year, about the time Mayor-elect Jerry Sanders assumes the new strong-mayor role established by voters in November 2004.

Tracy Means recently formed her own consulting company without notifying her bosses.

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