More on "how not to privatize" at Metro Airport

WAYNE COUNTY-The parking lot contract. The limo contract. The janitorial services contract. Construction overruns. Even Detroit Metro Airport's food-cart contract, investigators from Detroit's major newspapers are reporting, was signed under circumstances that look a lot like cronyism on the part of outgoing Wayne County Executive Edward H. McNamara.

In our last issue, we told you that a Detroit News investigation had turned up 86 percent of the airport's service contracts that had been awarded to McNamara political contributors. Since then, a slew of questionable contracting deals have been uncovered, further tarnishing an already shady reputation.

The FBI and a federal grand jury are investigating APCOA Inc., the airport's former parking contractor, for irregularities in bidding and contracts that some allege to have benefited McNamara's brother-in-law. The janitorial contractor, One Source, a campaign donor to McNamara and not the lowest bidder for its contract (which expired Nov. 30), appears to have overcharged Wayne County by about $1 million according to a county audit. Metro Cars, a luxury sedan company whose executives are major backers of McNamara, had its exclusive deal with the airport renewed in December, a single-bid contract expected to gross about $12 million per year. In a scramble to meet the deadline for opening the airport's new midfield terminal Feb. 24, no-bid contracts were granted to well-connected food-service companies to operate food-carts to replace restaurants that weren't able to open on time. One contractor who won a lucrative contract to operate 15 restaurants previously withdrew because of rising costs and "chaos" at the new terminal. Another contract, for CNN television services in the new terminal, was bid not by the county's purchasing office, but by Northwest Airlines.

So many reports resulted in a chorus of calls for an investigation-calls refused by state Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, who served under McNamara as Wayne County Corporation Counsel from 1994-98, and is viewed as a McNamara ally. Instead, Granholm has stood by McNamara and asked state police to determine whether an investigation is warranted. Then U.S. Rep. David Bonior called for an independent investigation of airport contracting practices, and for Granholm to remove herself from the investigation because she was corporation counsel for Wayne County when the questionable parking lot deals were made.

The latest is that McNamara and Gov. John Engler met in private for an hour and half in mid-February and when they came out, announced that the administration of Detroit Metro Airport would be taken away from Wayne County and handed over to a seven-member, independent authority to run both Metro and Willow Run airports. Wayne County Auditor General Brendan Dunleavy has warned lawmakers in Senate hearings that under the Engler/McNamara plan, the financial auditor would be accountable to the people he's supposed to be watching. In case of the kinds of financial funny business we've been seeing, in other words, the auditor wouldn't be very likely to call in the cops.