Josie Gonzales, center, holds up the grand jury report as she and other elected officials discuss their responses to 16 recommendations made by the panel.(Kurt Miller/Staff Photographer)

10:53 PM PDT on Wednesday, August 10, 2011

By KIMBERLY PIERCEALL
Staff Writer kpierceall@pe.com

The elected leaders overseeing San Bernardino International Airport voted Wednesday to agree to all but one of a civil grand jury’s 16 recommendations despite staff spending more than a month attempting to discredit the panel’s critical report that picked apart the oversight to develop the airport.

In its June 30 report, the civil grand jury raised several concerns taking issue with the airport’s use of an auditing firm founded by the airport authority’s executive director. It also questioned whether an individual who received two no-bid agreements to develop the airport may have inflated construction costs.

Cost to build a main passenger terminal for commercial aviation flights as well as a high-end general aviation terminal and three-story U.S. Customs building for international arrivals has grown in cost from $45 million to $142.5 million since 2007.

There are no scheduled commercial flights.

The authority has until Aug. 30 to formally respond to the grand jury’s recommendations. Sam Racadio, the board’s representative from Highland, suggested changes to wording so that rather than the authority saying it is considering doing something, that instead it say it “will” do something.

Those were the only changes made to the responses before they were approved at Wednesday’s meeting, the last of three meetings focused almost entirely on responding to the grand jury’s assertions.

“This airport is ready to fly and we must begin treating it as the big corporation that it will become,” said Josie Gonzales, San Bernardino County supervisor and member of the authority, likening the airport to a “little ugly leftover” before the authority invested in its development.

“As this airport grows, we become a competitor … and this airport is ready to compete,” she said.

One disagreement

The only recommendation the authority didn’t agree with was the grand jury’s suggestion that the airport stop all payments related to $4.06 million it agreed to spend on used aviation equipment in 2007.

The recommendation doesn’t apply because the deal is done, “and there are no similar agreements pending at this time,” according to the authority’s response.

The airport had agreed to pay that amount to Norton Development Co., one of several companies managed by the airport’s developer, Scot Spencer, for 11 jet bridges, baggage claim systems, seats and more that had been used by American Airlines in its John F. Kennedy terminal in New York as far back as 1975.

The grand jury had said there was one remaining jet bridge being refurbished and that taxpayers could save $134,689 if the airport refused to buy it.

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