In the waning days of a 20-year reign at Los Angeles City Hall, Bradley Administration officials have embarked on eleventh-hour foreign travel while mayoral allies have positioned themselves for lucrative city contracts--to the dismay and embarrassment of even the mayor's longtime backers.
With three months left in Mayor Tom Bradley's term, many observers inside and outside City Hall said efforts are afoot to reward those with ties to the mayor before Bradley releases his two-decade grip on power.
From a $250,000 tour of Europe, to an airport parking contract that had been planned for a company linked to a longtime Bradley ally, to apparent efforts to rush through another pact likely to go to a mayoral backer, City Council members and others say they are troubled by the last-minute activities.
One City Hall figure has coined the phrase "departure syndrome" to refer to the seeming crush of events at the end of the mayor's term.
"I would not characterize it as a raid on the city treasury," the longtime city official said. "But I think there's a very strong effort by the current Administration to take care of their own and for those who are connected with the Administration to get what they can while they still have access."
A Bradley associate and campaign contributor said: "I think that the mayor has served Los Angeles admirably, but I feel that what he is doing now will be interpreted in a very negative light."
Bradley was in Paris and could not be reached for comment. His staff at City Hall said it would not respond to the charges.
City Council members and Controller Rick Tuttle have led a countercharge against the activities--calling into question the value of several overseas excursions and taking the unusual step of questioning two contracts passing through the Bradley-appointed Airport Commission.
Tuttle said the most recent travel plans--for a 10-nation Asian tour--involved a contingent so large it reminded him of the expeditionary forces of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. And Councilwoman Joy Picus said there is "something rotten" about the way some contract deliberations have been speeded through the Airport Commission.
Against this backdrop, the City Council also recently warned the lame-duck mayor not to appoint any more top-ranking bureaucrats--a move the lawmakers said would prevent Bradley from filling plum jobs that should be left to the new mayor to appoint.
Questions about whether favors are going to the mayor's allies surfaced as early as last year, when Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and others suggested that a $112,000-a-year airport job had been created to provide a spot for one Bradley official even after the mayor is gone.
The deputy general manager position was widely believed to be slated for Phil Depoian, Bradley's aide for more than 20 years. Other candidates for the job said they believe Depoian still may get the assignment, even though several others scored above him on a civil service exam.
The mayor's office has denied that any special arrangements have been made to get Depoian the job and airport officials have declined to say when they will make the selection or who will be chosen.
"We are still waiting for the other shoe to drop on that one," Galanter said.
Questions about favoritism became more pointed in January, when the Airport Commission debated the awarding of a three-year contract to operate parking lots at Los Angeles International, Van Nuys and Ontario airports--the nation's largest municipal parking enterprise with $52 million in annual receipts.
Although an airport advisory panel unanimously recommended Parking Concepts, a majority of the commission seemed poised to select AMPCO Parking, a joint venture whose partners included longtime Bradley ally and former City Council candidate Homer Broome. The push for AMPCO came despite the fact that the company's proposed annual charge of $12.8 million was $800,000 more than the price quoted by Parking Concepts.
But it was doubts about whether Broome was seriously involved with AMPCO, or just a figurehead, that blocked the company's selection.
Instead of selecting Parking Concepts, the top-rated company, the commission voted to start from scratch with a new round of bidding--infuriating the City Council and most of the companies that had spent months preparing their bids.
Parking Concepts President Gill Barnett publicly called the commission's action "a sham," adding later: "I can't understand what it was if it wasn't politics."
With the airport's lucrative food and beverage contract soon coming up for bid, critics are saying the deck has been stacked to favor Concessions International, a major subcontractor that now runs airport food and beverages services and that has strong ties to Bradley.
Concessions International and its executives have given about $50,000 over the last several years to Bradley's political campaigns.
With the contract set to expire at the end of May, the Airport Commission hastily issued specifications last month for the operation, three sources familiar with the contract said. The commission did so despite the fact that its consultant, hired for more than $100,000, had not issued a final report on the subject, the sources said.
"There is a rush, rush, rush to get this completed while the mayor is still in office," one official said.
Particularly helpful to Concessions International and master contractor Host Marriott was a bid specification that cut into a program benefiting disadvantaged businesses, the sources said. Despite recommendations that 30% of the food and beverage concession be subcontracted to disadvantaged firms, the commission agreed to lower the level to 17%.
Large and successful firms such as Host and Concessions can qualify more easily and keep a bigger share of profits if they do not have to team with as many disadvantaged subcontractors, sources said.
The commission took the action despite a staff memo that warned it "dilutes our Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program and gives the appearance of tailoring a (proposal) to one potential proposer."
Proposals for the service are not due until next month.
Commissioner Leland Wong denied that airport officials have acted to help specific contractors. He said the bidding on the food contracts has been speeded up, but only because the commission wants to award a new contract before the current one expires.
But the City Council, expressing concern about tilting the contract in favor of the current operators, voted Friday to review the matter. The contract is set to go to committee this week.
Although the contract fights have gone on mostly in private or in relative obscurity before the commission, publicity over travel by the mayor and appointees has been in the headlines for weeks.
Trouble started for Bradley and his commissioners last month when Tuttle demanded a cutback in a Honolulu trip--saying that it was excessive to send the five-member Harbor Commission on a mission that could be accomplished by just one or two commissioners.
The chastened officials agreed to send just two commissioners to Hawaii. Then, last week, Tuttle again criticized the mayoral appointees for sending more officials than necessary on the European trip. Again, a reduction in the excursion was arranged. Finally, when word leaked out of a 10-nation, 14-person Asian tour by the mayor and harbor officials set for next month, contrite mayoral aides said the plan should be scrapped.
The Asian trip--the fate of which is undecided--was intended in part to close a deal of keen interest to Bradley and several in his inner circle: a $180-million coal-handling facility proposed for the Port of Los Angeles.
The project's 36 partners include Kaiser International Corp., a longtime port tenant whose president has for years been a loyal Bradley supporter and fund-raiser.
Last year, Harbor Commissioner Jun Mori stepped down after a legal opinion that he could not act on the coal project because his law firm represents Hiuka America Corp., a one-third owner of Kaiser.
Although Bradley's proposed participation in the Japan trip has sparked some controversy, a top port official said Friday that the mayor should visit Tokyo because his long support of the project has been crucial to its approval by U.S. and Japanese partners.
"He has really been the guy that's been strongly encouraging us . . . who has helped us at some very key points," said Tay Yoshitani, the port's deputy executive director of maritime affairs. "And I personally feel it would be an absolute embarrassment for the city and the port to have this project go forward . . . and not have the mayor physically show" in Japan.
"It would be an embarrassment and a slight to the Japanese," Yoshitani said.
But Tuttle said some trips are of little value because many appointees will soon leave office and will not keep up ties with foreign officials. Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said he would try to stop foreign travel by lame-duck appointees altogether.