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California

LAX chief steps down early following scrutiny over side job on a corporate board

Traffic outside Los Angeles International Airport.
Traffic outside Los Angeles International Airport.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The chief of Los Angeles World Airports will step down at the end of this month following questions from The Times about whether she received proper approval to accept a paid board position at an outside company.

In what could amount to a violation of city ethics rules, Deborah Flint accepted a board of director job with Honeywell International without getting formal approval, records show.

For the record:
7:30 PM, Dec. 11, 2019 A previous version of this article referred to Honeywell spokeswoman Nina Krauss as a spokesman.

Flint, whose official title is chief executive of Los Angeles World Airports, will earn at least $100,000 a year working for the North Carolina-based aerospace systems and consumer products company. She also has received stock.

City ethics rules require that certain officials get written approval to accept outside employment. In Flint’s case, that approval would have to come from the Board of Airport Commissioners, said Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office.

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However, there is no record of the commissioners discussing Flint joining Honeywell.

The Times first asked questions about Flint in mid-November. A week later, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority announced that Flint had been selected as its new chief executive. Los Angeles World Airports announced Flint would leave in March 2020.

Following additional questions from The Times, Los Angeles World Airports said in a statement Thursday that Flint’s departure had been moved up. The airport commissioners will consider approving Chief Operating Officer Justin Erbacci as interim CEO at their Dec. 19 meeting, and that appointment led Flint to “accelerate her departure, now scheduled for Dec. 31,” Los Angeles World Airports said in a statement.

Flint, who was appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2015 to oversee Los Angeles International Airport and Van Nuys Airport, has an annual salary of more than $390,000, according to the city controller’s office.

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Sean Burton, president of the commissioners, referred questions about Flint’s role at Honeywell to Becca Doten, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles World Airports.

In an email, Doten said Flint “reviewed the city’s ethics rules and documents before taking the role with the Honeywell board.” She said Flint plans to file disclosure forms with the city that will show any payments she receives from the company and will recuse herself if any conflicts arise.

Honeywell paid members of its board $125,972 to $342,765 last year, the publicly traded company reported to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

According to another company filing, Flint received 1,662 shares of Honeywell stock in October in the form of stock, options and restricted units.

Jessica Levinson, a former president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission and a Loyola Law School professor, said it’s a problem that the commissioners never approved Flint’s board position.

“They need to take the vote before she takes action in that [Honeywell] position. Or, if she already has taken action, they need to vote immediately,” Levinson said.

Honeywell sought a contract with Los Angeles World Airports in May that was worth up to $14 million. But the contract for a security system went to a competitor.

Separately, the company has an existing contract with the city’s Bureau of Sanitation that’s worth up to $97 million.

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In October, Honeywell CEO Darius Adamczyk released a statement praising Flint’s experience, saying it will help the company become a “premier software-industrial company.”

Asked whether Honeywell will continue to pursue contracts with Los Angeles World Airports, Honeywell spokeswoman Nina Krauss said the company does not “speculate about potential future business.”

Krauss said there has been one board meeting since October. Doten didn’t respond to a request for comment when asked whether Flint attended the meeting, and if so, where it was held.

Doten said Thursday that Flint will continue to serve on the Honeywell board.

Garcetti last week praised Flint’s performance in Los Angeles, saying she recently worked “20-hour days” as LAX rolled out its much-criticized lot for Uber and Lyft to pick up passengers. The mayor said he wasn’t concerned about the Honeywell position hampering her work for the city.

“I have no worry that she’s not putting time in,” Garcetti said.

A proven violation of the city’s ethics rules could result in a “monetary penalty of up to five thousand dollars for each violation or three times the amount which the person failed to report properly or unlawfully contributed, expended, gave or received, whichever is greater,” according to the city.

It’s not unheard of for government workers to have outside jobs, but in Flint’s case, Levinson said, the “timing is flipped.”

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“Typically, you do private work and then you’re asked to serve in government in some capacity. You shouldn’t be expected to give up your livelihood,” Levinson said.

The question surrounding Flint, she said, “is whether the private position came as a result of the government authority that she wields.”


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