Turner West – Denver’s Manager of Aviation – A Vignette

turner-west.jpgHad to smile when I read the Rocky Mountain News piece (Brian Maass, CBS 4 News), with regard to former Mayor Wellington Webb’s son being awarded a “no-bid” contract at Denver International Airport to provide a catering truck in the 45-minute vehicle waiting area at the western edge of DIA. This is the area where folks who have driven to the airport to pick-up friends, family can park free for up to 45 minutes so they don’t have to pay the hefty parking fees otherwise imposed on those who park in the interior lots.

No-bid contracts in a governmental setting are and should be a red flag to anyone who advocates or even just has some vague inclination that the governmental contracting process must provide the greatest possibility for competition through a process that is wholly transparent.

Apparently, however, last summer former mayor Wellington Webb took his son, Alan, in hand to DIA for the purpose of introducing him to Manager West where the proposal to place Alan’s catering truck in the 45-minute waiting area was broached.

Yes, of course, the bureaucrats at the airport justified the whole thing as some sort of “pilot” project that required an expedited process, sans bidding, and, well, Alan apparently pulled-out of the deal already because he wasn’t making any money and all things, therefore, are once again right with the world.

You can make your own conclusion about whether or not Turner West did a favor for an old friend, his former boss, Wellington Webb. I’ve made my own conclusions, having been involved in governmental procurement for a long, long time and, indeed, after having had the privilege of knowing Turner West for quite some time.

What tickled me about the whole thing was the last sentence of the News piece that reported: “West declined to talk about the contract flap. His spokesman said he was ‘not available, did not have time’ and had a ‘very busy week.'”

Hah! Methinks West’s response to the reporter’s inquiry–that was surely tempered by his, West’s, “spokesman”–was actually, oh, shall we say a wee bit more earthy.

Turner West is a nuts and bolts administrator whose slow, deep-toned southern-tinged voice articulates words with the precision of a surgeon a knife. And, yes, at times those words slice to the essential quick of any particular discussion.

West is one of those public servants whose professional career has ridden an unbending rail of integrity; a good and decent man who understands the essential worth of the adage that one’s word is one’s bond.

Backing up here, let me suggest–having encountered many times the kind of sludge that occurs in a public procurement setting–the incident of the no-bid catering deal at DIA probably occurred as follows: 1) Wellington Webb takes his son Alan to meet West where the catering idea is discussed; 2) West makes no promises and, most likely, tells the Webbs that, a) he will inform DIA contracting folks to look into the possibility of placing a catering truck in the 45-minute waiting lot; and, b) of course, the normal, usual process of bidding the same would be required; 3) West follows-up with the contracting folks and, most likely, forgets the whole thing and goes on with the business of running the airport; 4) DIA contracting folks dilly-dally for a while on the idea; 5) Webb’s son, or someone else connected with the enterprise, contacts DIA contracting folks and, a) suggests that Turner West advocated the idea and, b) former mayor Wellington Webb was, well, um, part of the mix and, Boy Howdy! the Thanksgiving “rush” is just around the corner and can’t they just do the deal and see how it works; 6) with the specter of both the names of Webb and West in the mix, some DIA contracting bureaucrat (not a “public servant,”–there is a difference), says, well, sure, we can do that and we’ll just call it a “pilot” project and, hell, there’s no need to bid the thing ’cause–winky-wink–it is, after all, Webb’s son and Turner West is on board and…

I hope you get the point.

My years in governmental procurement provided uncounted incidences of folks, potential vendors, calling me up and–sometimes in an off-hand manner; sometimes in a blatant manner–dropping one or two (usually the mayor’s, a council person’s or department head’s) name into the conversation, thus suggesting that I had better look kindly on them and their product/service because there would be hell to pay from the “higher ups” if I didn’t. Suffice it to say, name-dropping just pissed me off. And, of course, if some cretin happened to provide a threat encompassing a call to the mayor if I didn’t cave to their demands, my response was consistently to provide them with the mayor’s phone number and mailing address.

Well, anyway, Turner West announced his retirement some time ago. He will leave public service (or, at least, his position at DIA) this spring. I wish him well. And, I suspect he’s too much of a gentleman to, upon his leaving, opine on what he really thinks about politics, politicians, sycophantic bureaucrats, reporters and all the other crap a public servant must endure…especially in the difficult positions he’s honorably and ably held during his tenure with the city.

It’s been reported that Mayor Hickenlooper and his minions are conducting a “worldwide” search for Turner’s replacement. Methinks that search will come full-circle and reveal only one name: Turner West.

Godspeed Turner.

P.S. Thanks for posing with my nephew’s Flat Stanley (a school project that brought Flat Stanley from New Jersey to Denver). A lesser man would have thought the same beneath him.

P.P.S. Thanks, Suz, for getting the pic.

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One Response to Turner West – Denver’s Manager of Aviation – A Vignette

  1. John says:

    Lovely post, George. We never dealt with Turner personally. It is nice to know, however, that in your estimation he was an honorable civil servant. As, of course, were you. Cheers.

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