Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Double Eagle Double Trouble
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
A little airport on the West Side is turning into a big headache at City Hall.
And now the FBI is taking interest, one city councilor says.
The issue centers on lease negotiations with Bode Aero Services Inc., a contractor that helps operate Double Eagle II airport. The negotiations have already triggered two lawsuits against the city, as well as City Council debate over whether there ought to be an internal investigation.
City Councilor Michael Cadigan, a frequent critic of the mayor who recently gave up his own bid for the office, said he was contacted this month by an FBI agent, who later met him at his Downtown law office.
He said the agent asked him about Bode's allegations that the administration retaliated against it after refusing to provide free or discounted air service for Mayor Martin Chávez, among other issues.
"They just asked me what I knew," Cadigan told the Journal. "I didn't contact them. They contacted me."
City attorneys deny the allegations and say Bode wasn't asked for free air service and is trying to pressure them into a more favorable lease deal without competitive bidding.
Chief Administrative Officer Ed Adams said Monday that "these (Bode) guys are slinging everything they can come up with."
And chief public safety officer Pete Dinelli said the FBI interviews hundreds of people every day, and said it did not necessarily mean there was an investigation.
"In all probability, it's no big deal," he said.
An FBI spokesman said the agency has a policy of not confirming or denying such reports.
Cadigan has asked the council to call for an investigation by the city's inspector general something the Mayor's Office says it supports. Adams said in a memo that the administration would "cooperate fully with any needs you have regarding the investigation."
Cadigan said the FBI agent also asked him about some issues unrelated to Bode, such as a provision in city requests for proposals that awards extra points for participating in the mayor's youth jobs program. City officials say that provision is legal.
The airport dispute started last year, when the city and Bode Aero worked to update the company's agreements to help operate Double Eagle. Bode says it reached lease amendments with the city Aviation Department only to have final approval held up by the mayor's top executives.
The company and related plaintiffs allege in court that they were victims of retaliation after raising concerns about how public money was being spent and after declining to provide free or discounted air service for Chávez's travel to Mexico and for his Senate campaign.
The dispute is simmering on several fronts:
n Bode Aero Services has filed two lawsuits against the city. In state court, the company alleges it successfully negotiated agreements with the city Aviation Department but the city's CAO wouldn't sign them. In a separate lawsuit in federal court, Bode says it was the victim of retaliation.
Company officials say a city consultant determined the lease deal was reasonable, compared with similar deals elsewhere.
n In August, a state judge ordered Adams to sign the lease amendments negotiated with Bode. Judge Geraldine Rivera said she was "appalled" at how the city treated Bode.
"There's an elephant in the room, folks," Rivera said in a court hearing, according to a transcript. "Nobody's bringing it up, but we all have an idea of what it is. The day that government exists just for politics and how it can benefit the principals of our municipalities is the day we're all in trouble. And thank God we have three branches of government."
In an interview, Adams said he was concerned the contract wasn't in the city's best interest. He wanted a "reasonable" provision accounting for inflation, he said, and it wasn't appropriate for the judge to order him to sign a contract that hadn't been approved by the administration or City Council.
n Rivera's decision might not stand. The city appealed her ruling, and the state Court of Appeals has indicated it will side with the city. In a notice filed in February, the court said it would propose "summary reversal," noting that Bode could seek other legal remedies besides ordering the city to sign the lease. The appeal is pending.
n The federal lawsuit is pending, too. City attorneys argue the suit should be dismissed because the city's actions were reasonable and within its legal authority. They deny the allegations of retaliation.