A City Council panel postponed Monday a decision on whether to overrule the Airport Commission's vote to award $3.8 million in public relations contacts, or reconsider a seven-year-old executive order barring such contracts.
Former Mayor James Hahn issued the order in 2005 to ban all outside public relations contracts after private firms were accused of overbilling the Department of Water and Power.
"We need to know if that executive order is still in effect and, if it is, whether we can overrule it," said Councilman Joe Buscaino, who sits on the tourism and travel panel. "I think we need the answer to that before we make a decision on these contracts."
Councilman Tom LaBonge said the committee will schedule a special meeting to deal with the executive directive issue.
The Airport Commission had approved contracts with three firms - all outside the city of Los Angeles - to develop a public information and communications campaign to advise the public about the modernization project under way at Los Angeles International Airport.
Councilman Dennis Zine, who is running for city controller, raised objections to the contracts, questioning if they are needed and why no firms based in the city were among the recommended firms.
"If we are going to spend this kind of money, we ought to try to find a firm that pays taxes in the city to be included," Zine said, citing emails he has received over the past week from firms saying they were unaware of the contracts.Zine also questioned what the contracts will accomplishfor those who use the airport - namely people catching a flight or picking someone up at LAX.
"I'm not sure spending $3.8 million will make it any easier for people," Zine said. "I agree with the need for the modernization and we need to be more customer friendly, but I don't see how this helps us."
Airport Commission President Michael Lawson, however, said the issue is not so much for Los Angeles residents but for travelers and companies from overseas who have options beyond LAX.
"Those people do have other choices," Lawson said. "We are trying to tell them that this will be worth it. We are rebuilding the third largest airport in the country. We have got to do something to educate the public that the disruption they are going through is for their own benefit, that we are going to erect something that everyone will appreciate and will be a crown jewel for this city."
Lawson said the commission also held two meetings devoted to the contracts and that it did not just accept the recommendations from its staff without thorough study.
The firms recommended for the contracts are the Phelps Group, AdEase Inc. and Nothing Films Inc. Phelps Group is the main firm and it will hire subcontractors to assist in outreach to the various groups in the city and which use LAX. The contract includes funds to cover any advertising costs, officials said.