Sunday, May 27, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Audit airport to affirm public trust

In late June, Commissioner Diane Rowden asked the county to review the operating procedures of the county-owned airport and its advisory body, suggesting a lease controversy there was worthy of a more thorough examination.

"Where there is smoke there is usually fire,'' Rowden said before being overruled by Chairman David Russell.

Turns out, Rowden may have underestimated the size of the fire and the imperative need for an outside assessment of how things are handled at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. As Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt reported, the former Brooksville Air Center office building and hangar — purchased by the county in April and recently leased to Corporate Jet Solutions of Clearwater — was built and opened three years ago without final inspections or a permanent certificate of occupancy and with incomplete drainage work that appears as finished on post-construction engineering drawings.

These shortcomings came to light as the county began addressing a punch list of drainage work and other needed repairs identified by Corporate Jet Solutions. The missed inspections and unbuilt drainage ponds show dubious due diligence by the county and Airport Authority prior to acquiring the property for $1.25 million. It correctly left Commissioner Nick Nicholson, an engineer, wondering what other airport construction work was done without proper oversight.

But Nicholson shouldn't end his involvement with bewilderment. He should join Rowden in seeking more oversight of the airport, including a forensic audit, if the airport managers, both hired and appointed, are unable to account for the discrepancies. The rest of the commissioners would be remiss if they failed to do likewise.

The public ignorance of the property's condition is particularly disturbing considering a former Brooksville Air Center manager, Robert S. Rey, identified the shortcomings in an April 9 email to the county. It drew little attention because of attempts to discredit Rey as a disgruntled airport tenant. Last week, Rey responded by filing a slander suit against the retired airport manager.

It is an opportune time to start fresh at the airport beyond its new name. The recently hired airport manager, Kevin Daugherty, joined the staff last week and the county is trying to be a good landlord toward Corporate Jet Solutions by repairing the property it leases for $10,000 a month. More changes are needed. The commission must be confident its airport — a highly valuable and publicly-owned resource — isn't operated amid a culture of intimidation, favoritism and shoddy oversight. The commission should order the audit to show public trust is a valued commodity in its government operations.

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