Monday, December 18, 2017
Editorials

Grounding airport business in a turf battle

Hernando County keeps stubbing its toe over potential business prospects at the publicly owned airport. Two years ago, some pilots and Commissioner Jim Adkins didn't want an FAA tower at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport even though the substantial federal investment primed the airport for future growth. In March, a county commission majority killed an application for the national domestic drone research program and the potential economic expansion that could accompany participation. (A divided commission later reversed that shortsightedness.)

Now comes a dispute over leasing a county-owned office building and hangar at the airport that has the commissioners and their appointed advisory board — the Hernando County Aviation Authority — quarreling about job duties and oversight and a private company believing it is operating at a competitive disadvantage.

It's an embarrassing track record, reflecting poorly on a county relying on the airport and adjoining commerce/industrial parks as the centerpiece of future economic development.

The current brouhaha centers on Corporate Jet Solutions, an aviation maintenance business based in Clearwater. It responded to an aviation authority ad seeking tenants for a facility the county acquired in April. However, county procurement rules require public disclosure of the company's lease offer to avoid noncompetitive business practices at the public airport. Normally such disclosure doesn't raise a ruckus because of the lack of outside interest. Corporate Jet Solutions, however, isn't happy because, post disclosure, two other companies, American Aviation and Jet ICU, said they were interested in a lease arrangement for the same space.

The dispute spilled into the commission chambers last month and brought an order to the Aviation Authority to expedite its recommendation for a tenant. The authority declined to alter its timetable, leaving a flummoxed commission unwilling to make its own decision until later this month even though Corporate Jet Solutions met the board's deadline to present its proposal last week.

That is problematic, and perhaps the county should rethink its lease procedures. In the future, it should simply put out request for proposals so all interested parties can bid simultaneously on desirable vacant property.

Regardless, a refresher course on delineation of duties is required. The Aviation Authority is simply an adviser. It makes recommendations to commissioners, who have final say on the leases negotiated by the airport manager. Most importantly, the county, as landlord, is charged with getting the best deal possible for the public in terms of lease payments and private job creation. Much of this seems to have been forgotten amid the commission's criticism of favoritism or nonfeasance by the Aviation Authority, and the authority's obstinate response.

A county patient enough to follow appropriate protocols will be better positioned to attract new business opportunities than one that governs by knee-jerk reactions and petulance.

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