Winner & Associates was first hired three years ago to help inform the public about a $12 billion expansion plan for LAX, and has earned about $9 million from the contract so far. In December, the Airport Commission had approved a one-year, $1.5 million extension of the contract, despite objections by some airport executives, who believed funding for the public relations initiative was extravagant at a time when the airport faces a $127 million deficit.
News reports in The Los Angeles Times had focused on the fact that the firm’s president Charles Winner, was a high profile supporter of L.A. Mayor James Hahn.
In a letter to Hahn, Winner said the firm was resigning because news stories had created “inaccurate impressions” about the work it was doing, and implied that spending money on PR could cost city employees their jobs. He said he was also concerned the controversy could detract from Hahn’s efforts to win support for building a safer airport.
Winner was originally hired by former Mayor Richard Riordan to organize public meetings and gather community feedback about a plan for expanding LAX, the world’s third busiest airport. That plan was scrapped by Hahn, who favors spreading any future increase in airline traffic among several southern California airports and plans to invest more in security.
The firm’s work included:
- Simplifying thousands of pages of technical materials for the public.
- Managing more than 20 subcontractors.
- Interacting with members of the media.
- Reaching out to thousands of businesses, community and labor organizations.
- Producing documents including brochures, videotapes and news releases.
But one subcontractor reportedly told airport officials it felt guilty about being part of the PR team because so little real work was done. That led to questions about whether the contract extension was necessary or simply repayment for Winner’s political support.