Monday, January 22, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando commissioner criticizes head of Aviation Authority for 'bully tactics'

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Commissioner Diane Rowden on Tuesday blasted the chairman of the county's Aviation Authority, saying he was trying to discredit the county administrator "with distortions and innuendos.''

Gary Schraut has been using "bully tactics,'' including shouting at commissioners during a recent meeting and "distorting the facts to match his agenda,'' Rowden told commissioners.

Rowden, the commission's liaison to the Aviation Authority, cited an email Schraut sent commissioners Monday. In the email, Schraut implied County Administrator Len Sossamon has been circumventing normal procedures at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport to promote the business of an old associate and political supporter in Concord, N.C., a marketing consultant named Gary Walker.

Rowden said she, not Sossamon, had invited Walker to explore a business opportunity at the Hernando airport. The large business that Walker represented ultimately decided not to relocate to Hernando County.

One official from the company commented afterward that "we candidly didn't know what to make of what appeared to be a 'not interested' sign on the county's part,'' Rowden said.

Walker, who knows Sossamon because he was formerly Concord's city manager, never had a contract or agreement with Hernando County or the airport.

Schraut's email also tied Sossamon to a series of controversies at the airport that resulted in negative publicity. The administrator began "working behind the scenes on May 10th to orchestrate these problems,'' Schraut wrote.

That email came a day after the Tampa Bay Times published a story in which Sossamon criticized Schraut's handling of airport issues, including the county's purchase of the old Brooksville Air Center site.

Sossamon questioned Schraut's and airport officials' diligence on that purchase. He said Schraut needed to realize he is the chairman of an advisory committee and that the County Commission has the final say on airport issues. He said Schraut, a well-connected local Realtor, needs to "put on his big-boy pants and suck it up.''

Responding to a resident who congratulated Sossamon for standing up to Schraut, Sossamon said Tuesday that he was frustrated by several issues at the airport and had added "more color than I normally do'' in a conversation with a Times reporter.

He apologized to anyone he might have offended.

But Rowden said she believes that Schraut "is the root cause of the controversy and upheaval at the airport."

Schraut "is not the solution. He is the problem,'' she said, suggesting the problem needs to be handled by the County Commission.

Longtime Schraut ally Commission Chairman Dave Russell came to his defense, saying Schraut, a 20-plus-year member of the Aviation Authority, "should be commended'' for his work at the airport.

Schraut could not be reached for comment.

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