Morris: SBIAA will address report
Josh Dulaney, Staff Writer
Posted: 07/12/2011 08:56:38 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – Airport officials on Tuesday slammed the San Bernardino County Grand Jury’s report that called into question the effort to bring commercial flights to the city.

Members of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority – a joint powers authority composed of the county of San Bernardino and the cities of San Bernardino, Colton, Loma Linda and Highland – said they will file a formal response by Aug. 30 to try and undo the damage from what they called a “hit piece.”

“The consequence is that we will wear this like an ugly, wet suit wherever we go,” said Josie Gonzales, chairwoman for the county Board of Supervisors, and member of the SBIAA board.The Grand Jury report said the SBIAA has engaged in questionable practices in regard to its finances, construction management and how it awards developer contracts.

The civil Grand Jury commissioned an audit of the airport following complaints it received two years ago of irregularities occurring at the former Norton Air Force Base.

The audit raised questions about the SBIAA’s oversight of spending, rising costs of projects, and its relationship with Scot Spencer, a convicted felon who has served time in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud and has been banned from the aviation industry.

The U.S. Department of Transportation fined Spencer $1 million and banned him from the aviation industry, but the fine remains unpaid.

Still, the airport authority has entered into multiple contracts with Spencer.

The audit also found that interim Executive Director Don Rogers is a founding partner of an accounting firm hired to conduct the airport’s annual audits and special compliance reviews, and that compliance reviews occasionally omitted key areas of concern for the airport.

Airport officials said they are concerned that the report will harm efforts to land a commercial airline, as well as bring business to the surrounding area.

Mayor Pat Morris, who is the SBIAA’s board president, said the implications of the report are profound, and the alleged errors in it will be addressed in the coming weeks.”There are some real damning factual errors in here that have to be be unmasked…” Morris said.

He said the airport authority will address the Grand Jury report issue by issue at its upcoming meetings, leading up to its written response.

“It’s going to have to be done in public in the interest of being transparent and in the interest of having the public take a look at how we actually have intended and will continue to intend to run the business of SBIA,” Gonzales said.

Morris said the SBIAA received the Grand Jury report 48 hours before it was published, and that airport officials were not given time to address factual errors in the document, as had allegedly been promised.

Officials also said that the auditors ignored vital information that the SBIAA offered them for their report.

“A lot of the fundamental things they are saying in here we do not agree with,” Rogers said.

Those include how the airport has awarded contracts for work, and how it purchased equipment for projects.

As for Spencer’s involvement, Gonzales said the SBIAA intends to seek outside legal opinion on the matter.

“My own due diligence says this is not an issue,” said Tim Sabo, the attorney for the airport board.

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