Hernando commissioner criticizes aviation official for private meetings

Gary Schraut saw every commissioner except Diane Rowden.
Gary Schraut saw every commissioner except Diane Rowden.
Published Aug. 17, 2013

BROOKSVILLE — One of the first things Hernando County Aviation Authority Chairman Gary Schraut did this week when he returned from his vacation in Colorado was set up a series of meetings.

On Wednesday, Schraut met individually with four of the five county commissioners to discuss the ongoing power struggle between the Aviation Authority and the County Commission.

Also in the meetings was SunTrust Bank executive Jim Kimbrough.

According to commissioners, the agenda included blaming recent airport controversy on the one commissioner not invited — Diane Rowden — and criticism of the job being done by county Administrator Len Sossamon. There was also a primer on proper airport procedures.

At Thursday's Aviation Authority meeting, Rowden, the commission's liaison to the Airport Authority, called Schraut out over his tactics.

"We know this board has been under a lot of ridicule and scrutiny for the past few weeks, and I have been accused publicly and privately for being behind this controversy, and that is not the case,'' Rowden said.

The "secret meetings'' with commissioners, she said, "really deeply concern me."

"Evidently I'm a demon or evil'' because, Rowden said, some commissioners were told she was behind the recent controversy over leasing airport space to Corporate Jet Solutions, an airplane maintenance company.

Commissioner Nick Nicholson said that's what he was told in his meeting with Schraut and Kimbrough. He was also told that Sossamon had overstepped his bounds as administrator. Nicholson said that does concern him, and he plans to talk to Sossamon about why he recommended approval of a particular airport issue.

When questioned about the issue, which was to approve the air ambulance company Jet ICU as a fixed-base operator, Sossamon said it was Commissioner Wayne Dukes who wanted the issue on the agenda.

Sossamon said he was flabbergasted about the individual meetings with commissioners.

"I just don't know what to say,'' he said.

Commissioner Jim Adkins acknowledged that Rowden and Sossamon were discussed in his meeting, but he declined to elaborate.

"I don't want to pick Diane out," Adkins said. "She's a nice lady, but we have to understand that we have procedures we need to go through.''

During Thursday's Aviation Authority meeting, the first since Rowden criticized Schraut during a commission meeting for attempting to discredit Sossamon, she asked Schraut why he didn't call her to a private meeting.

"Ma'am, I think it's pretty clear by reading the newspapers that you have had plenty to say about me in the newspapers. I needed to speak with commissioners who didn't have things to say,'' Schraut said "I have that right.''

His message to commissioners, he said, was: "There is nothing wrong with this airport. There is nothing wrong with the Hernando County staff and … there is nothing wrong with this authority. I felt I needed to say that to them directly.''

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Adkins said Kimbrough had a message, too.

"He's concerned, by the comments he did make, that the airport is a jewel and we should make sure to keep it going and stop with all the controversy,'' Adkins said.