Hernando County figured out it needs to do a better job of rolling out the welcome mat at its publicly owned airport if it wants to grow the local economy. Last week, both the appointed Airport Authority and the elected County Commission agreed to lease a county-owned site that formerly housed the failed Brooksville Air Center. The tenant will be Corporate Jet Solutions, a Clearwater company that wants to move its operations and 20 employees to the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.
It is the correct decision and the only reasonable alternative that both boards could have considered. The lease approval came despite a late pitch from a current airport tenant, American Aviation, to purchase the property for just slightly more than the $1.25 million the county paid for it in April.
Commissioners also wisely recognized competitive bias when they saw it and killed an attempt by America Aviation's consultant to denigrate the terms of the lease and the county's due diligence. The consultant's report had been presented a day earlier to the Aviation Authority and came across as little more than a poorly disguised attempt to bump the rent for Corporate Jet Solutions, which, like American Aviation, will be competing for fuel sale business at the airport.
Besides the purchase offer, American Aviation also promised to file a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration over what it believes to be a too-generous lease to its new competitor. The company's attempts to preserve its fuel-sale monopoly are understandable, but the commission had no legal alternative except to ignore the gamesmanship.
The offer to buy the land, however, highlights flawed procurement rules at the airport. Even though lease terms must pass federal muster, the public and the competing businesses alike would be better served by a standard request for proposal, or RFP, in which a government advertises for services. Under that procedure, all interested companies must respond by the same deadline, eliminating accusations of favoritism, personal bias and behind-the-scene politicking.
It will be easier for Hernando County to bolster its employment outlook if existing businesses and newly recruited industries both believe they're being treated fairly by their local government.