Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Editorials

Airport snit undermines economic development effort

The economic efforts at the Hernando County-owned airport have gone off course and the guy advising the landlord could better serve the public if he offered solutions instead of vilification.

More importantly, the county would be acting in bad faith if it failed to assume responsibility for the needed repairs at the site it acquired in April and leased this month to Corporate Jet Solutions. The Clearwater company is expanding its operations to the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, but discovered flaws in the county-owned buildings including poor drainage, a damaged floor and a broken safety mechanism on the hangar door. The repair bills could be as high as $75,000.

County Administrator Len Sossamon correctly ordered the repair work to protect a public asset and to avoid Hernando earning the unattractive label of "a freaking slumlord.'' He also publicly questioned the due diligence work of the Airport Authority, which recommended county purchase of the former Brooksville Air Center facility.

Sossamon's executive leadership, however, didn't sit well with Gary Schraut, chairman of the Aviation Authority, who contended the new tenant should take the property as is. Schraut also lamented being left out of the decision-making loop. Unfortunately, it didn't end there. Schraut followed with an email to county commissioners this week attempting to undermine Sossamon's authority by suggesting the county administrator unsuccessfully pushed business toward an old North Carolina acquaintance and also worked behind the scenes to orchestrate problems casting the Airport Authority in a bad light.

The email shows Schraut doesn't need anybody else's help putting a negative spotlight on the advisory panel. His undocumented assertions brought a well-deserved public rebuke from Commissioner Diane Rowden, the commission's liaison to the Airport Authority.

This tit-for-tat is symptomatic of a still-unresolved issue of the assigned role of the Airport Authority. It is an advisory body to the County Commission. Commissioners have final say over airport management and a fiduciary responsibility to ensure operation of the facility is done in accordance with the public's best interests. Though Schraut has served in the volunteer position for two decades, his tenure should not be accompanied by a sense of entitlement to micromanage county decisions with which he disagrees. The continued petulance and finger-pointing damages the county's credibility as it seeks to rebrand the airport as Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. The commission is seeking to lure business to the airport and its adjoining commerce, industrial and rail parks as part of a much-needed diversification of the Hernando County economy. It shouldn't have to worry what bellicose behavior awaits the next time a new tenant wants to move to the airport.

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