Witchita Airport Overseer Hired Despite Concerns

Wichita City Council members voted Tuesday to hire DMJM Aviation to oversee the development of a new $150 million terminal at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

Council members set aside ethics concerns raised during the selection process but called for more council involvement and greater transparency of the process as the project moves forward.

Under the contract approved unanimously Tuesday, Wichita will pay DMJM Aviation $4.55 million to manage the project to replace the 50-year-old terminal at Mid-Continent.

But Mayor Carlos Mayans, who made the motion for approval, said he was concerned by a lack of City Council participation in the selection process.

A city staff committee picked DMJM Aviation and negotiated the contract before seeking council approval.

"We didn't have an opportunity to concur with that because the train had left the station," he said. "I think before staff gets involved in the negotiation of a contract, that we should have that concurrence ahead of time."

The contract hit some turbulence several weeks ago when URS Corp., which placed second in the competition for the contract, alleged that the city government violated federal contracting guidelines and tampered with its bidding rights by trying to lure a key subcontractor from URS's team to DMJM's.

According to city records, members of city staff had asked Leigh Fisher, an airport financial consulting firm, to join DMJM's bid.

Although the city agreed to halt talks with Leigh Fisher until after the project manager was selected, City Manager George Kolb said he did not think that Wichita was bound by contractual arrangements between Leigh Fisher and URS.

The contract with DMJM Aviation will now go to the Federal Aviation Administration for final review.

For the terminal project to be eligible for federal grants -- a key element of the proposed funding package -- the federal agency must approve both the contract terms and the process the city used to award it.

Separate from the URS complaint, an Eagle investigation found that DMJM Aviation is part of a network of companies involved in at least four ethics controversies in the past five years.

Two of the controversies -- a joint state-federal investigation in California and a federal trial in California scheduled for September -- are ongoing.

The final investigative report on the incident said that the committee did not have jurisdiction to reach any conclusions regarding DMJM's actions.