Phoenix Aviation Director David Krietor appears almost daily in the local news, despite the fact that he rarely says anything worthwhile.
Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, Krietor has mouthed off endlessly about heightened security at Sky Harbor, oozing enthusiasm for the government's multimillion-dollar plans to protect us from mad bombers.
But he hasn't answered some crucial questions, like where the $12 million needed to pay for heightened security will come from, or why it's a bad idea to board a plane wearing a merit badge.
Krietor's idea of a good time on a Thursday afternoon is an iced tea at Lefty's South Rim Bar and Grill, the only lounge accessible on the pedestrian side of any Sky Harbor security checkpoint.
Wedged between a coffee shop and a newsstand, this Terminal Two tavern is as unremarkable as any shopping mall lounge, with a couple of differences. Instead of the throb of canned country music, cocktail chatter at Lefty's is backed by the blare of flight departure announcements. Rather than barroom brawls, there are tearful farewells. There's no pinball machine, but there is a huge, winding, red-and-white-striped maze, though which a handful of dazed-looking travelers are wandering just outside the bar's gaping maw of a doorway.
Don the barkeep explains that the maze is meant to keep people "in line" as they approach the security checkpoint.
I want to ask Krietor if the bored-looking, camouflage-clad guard stationed at the luggage x-ray machine counts as "security," but Krietor has stood me up. Although his office is only several hundred yards away, and despite the fact that he's agreed to meet me at Lefty's, Krietor's a no-show.
I call his office on my cell phone and demand to know where he and all this new security I keep hearing about happens to be.
New Times: You've announced that Sky Harbor will have 500 federal security employees in place by November. How many are in place now?
David Krietor: A handful. Less than 10.
NT: Gee. That many.
You canned Argenbright Security last December, because of "personnel shortcomings." You replaced Argenbright with WorldWide Security Associates. But WorldWide hired half its workers from Argenbright's ranks. How does that solve any problems?
Krietor: Well, even though we had some concerns about the quality of Argenbright's work, they had some hardworking people in their ranks. WorldWide did background checks on everybody, and ended up keeping a lot of the better Argenbright employees. But it won't matter, because the feds will come in and replace everyone in November, anyway.
NT: How is government-run security going to be different from the same service provided by private contractors?
Krietor: In the case of a private contractor, contracts are often awarded to the company with the lowest bid. So you can end up with a company with minimum qualifications. The feds will be providing a higher quality of service.
NT: Which will be much more expensive, and which taxpayers will end up paying for.
Krietor: Yes, it's much more expensive. But the federal security will ensure that people aren't standing in lines for an hour, being asked to disrobe, or having their nail clippers confiscated.
NT: Well, there are no lines now. In addition to the federal security guards, you'll be paying out roughly $12 million to post police officers at each of your checkpoints. Where will this funding come from?
Krietor: From the Aviation Department's operating budget. In order to come up with the funding, we instigated a hiring freeze, and we stopped all our construction projects on the airport.
NT: So the new parking garage at Terminal Four is just going to sit there, half-finished?
Krietor: No. We'll finish all the projects that we were at the tail end of, but all of the construction projects that had just been started are on hold. We stopped remodeling of the stores in Terminal Four, for example.
NT: Sky Harbor is second only to LAX when it comes to the number of weapons seized at checkpoints.
Krietor: That's probably a fact that's more reflective of our handgun laws than anything else. Sky Harbor is one of the 10 busiest airports in the country, and in Arizona we have very liberal laws relative to carrying handguns.
NT: When I picked up a friend at Sky Harbor recently, your security guards checked my car for explosives by glancing past me into the front seat. What about the bomb I had hidden in my trunk?
Krietor: The guards are supposed to search the trunk of every vehicle to make sure the driver isn't carrying a large explosive. What they're checking for is a device that's large enough to blow up the garage and cause it to collapse on the terminal building. We're not trying to stop someone from blowing up their car.
NT: That's comforting. So if I'm carrying a little bomb, I'll be okay.
Krietor: Well, if you had a bomb in your suitcase, the parking guards won't look in there.
NT: But God forbid I should show up with a merit badge pinned to my chest. I hear your guards detained Joseph Foss, an 86-year-old World War II veteran who was stopped because his medal of honor could have been used as a weapon.
Krietor: Well, you know, we're not operating those security checkpoints right now. If we were, we'd probably have a different attitude, a different level of customer service. The security guards who stopped this man were airline employees. They thought it was a weapon.
NT: A medal of honor?
Krietor: I know. I know. I've never seen one, so I can't imagine why they thought he could hijack a plane with one. Maybe it has sharp edges.
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NT: He was 86 years old! They took away his bola tie!
Krietor: Things are going to change here pretty soon. We're constantly trying to convince the feds that they need to run security in a way that provides customer service. We're talking about ex-Secret Service people, so they're not people who really know or understand handling the public.
NT: You don't sound like you think they'll do a good job.
Krietor: The feds will do a good job of providing security, but we need to harp on them about customer service, about keeping things moving. Because people who've bought a $59 ticket to San Diego aren't going to want to wait in line for two or three hours, and then have to undress in public for some security guard.