BROOKSVILLE — Several months ago, the county's manager at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport allowed American Aviation, the airport's fixed-base operator, to move into two empty hangars and use them for storage and for renovation of airplane interiors.
Airport manager Kevin Daugherty accepted a payment for $50,000 for the purchase of the hangars before asking the Hernando County Commission for approval, then had to give that money back. American Aviation also signed a lease for the space, but that too was canceled.
When others who wanted a shot at operating the hangars complained to the County Commission, the county sought bids for the operation of the two hangars that American Aviation had been using, plus a second set of bids for two other hangars.
Now the county has a new message for those interested in operating the hangars: Never mind.
Last week, the county canceled both requests for bids.
The reason is just as confusing as the saga of the hangars to date.
Apparently, after Robert Rey and Steve Klapka of Jet Concepts raised questions before the County Commission and sought a more level playing field for everyone, and the county advertised for bids, the attorney for American Aviation president John Petrick raised his own alarm.
"It has come to our attention that the county is soliciting bids to lease the property adjacent to my client's leasehold and sell the structures currently on said property,'' attorney Robert Morris wrote to the county. "A review of the offer as published fails to reference the fact that American Aviation Inc. has the right of first refusal to this property and any bid would be subject to American Aviation's election to exercise that option.''
Morris goes on to say that when American Aviation negotiated its current contract, which documents indicate was in September 2007, the county "agreed that American Aviation Inc. would have the right of first refusal to the adjacent property.''
The four hangars in question are adjacent to American Aviation.
Morris notes that the provision "should be included in the notice'' seeking the bids. "Additionally, please confirm to us in writing that the county is aware of my client's rights and what steps the county is taking to ensure it does not breach the agreement.''
The county's agreement with American Aviation does reference the right of first refusal, noting that it is defined in Exhibit 5 of the document. But the lease recorded in official records in the office of the clerk of the Circuit Court does not include an Exhibit 5. When the county asked for a copy of the exhibit, none was provided by Morris, according to Jon Jouben, deputy county attorney.
Jouben authored the memo authorizing the canceling of the bids. His concern was that the bids as advertised conflict with Federal Aviation Administration rules.
The version of why the bids were canceled that was shared with Klapka and Rey was different. The county's procurement office and Daugherty, the airport manager, each told them that the bids were canceled because they conflicted with the grant the county received in 2015 to build hangars that were meant to replace the hangars up for bid.
That grant, Klapka said he was told, required the county to demolish the old hangars. However, after the demolition was called for in the airport master plan the County Commission approved in 2016, officials determined that the hangars are not in bad shape and do not need to be demolished.
Jouben said he has seen nothing indicating that the hangars will need to be razed at this time and referred questions about more specifics to Daugherty.
The county's building official, Jim Friedrichs, has told county Commissioner Steve Champion that the hangars are fine and can continue to be used, Champion told the Times.
He was surprised to learn that the bids had been canceled and was eager to hear an official explanation.
"This whole thing stinks,'' Champion said, noting that he hopes that when commissioners hold a workshop on airport issues on April 4, they can get to the bottom of the matter. Champion said he is concerned that some of the long-standing arguments by airport critics that Petrick has had an edge, and gets breaks at the airport, might have some merit.
Champion visited with Petrick recently, and he said he was up front with Petrick that the county could not play favorites.
"I told him that I need to look at what's best for the county, not just what's best for John Petrick,'' Champion said.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.