A discussion about creating an Airport Advisory Committee during the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Aug. 28, 2018, reflected on the solid performance of an existing Hernando County committee: the Hernando County Port Authority. The Port Authority was honored by the BOCC with a resolution that morning recognizing their contributions to improving waterways within the county. Those contributions include guidance on revising marine construction code, assisting in permitting and funding aspects of the recent artificial reef deployments, providing volunteers, boat captains and local knowledge for oyster reef deployments. The successes of the Port Authority is due to the dedication of the citizens who are involved and that is what the BOCC is looking for should they decide to create an Airport Advisory Committee.
What they do not desire is a repeat of the dissolved Aviation Authority. When the BOCC disbanded the Aviation Authority in December of 2014, they hadn’t conducted a meeting in 4 months, delaying business conducted at the airport. Robert Rey, President of Jet Concepts, Inc., recalled that it took five years for him to get a $500 special operator’s permit through the Aviation Authority and over 6 months to rent a hangar.
Rey used the term ‘incestuous’ to describe how the members of the Aviation Authority would continuously re-appoint the same members. He also stated that their decision making was “unidirectional” and input from community members was rarely considered.
He urged commissioners to not let this happen to an Airport Advisory Committee should they decide to form one. Should they decide against the committee, then he said additional information needs to be presented to the board in regards to creating a fair and equal playing field at the airport.
It was a difficult time for all involved when the decision was made to disband the Aviation Authority, but since that time business has grown significantly at the airport.
Commissioner Champion remarked, “In the last two years, we’ve done better than we ever have at the Airport.”
This begs the question Commissioner Dukes posed,
“If it’s not broke, what is there to fix?”
Commissioner Dukes and Holcomb were a part of the board that voted to disband the Aviation Authority and both individually voted to do so. While Commissioner Dukes is set against an Aviation Advisory Committee, Commissioner Holcomb is in favor.
“I am supporting this because in my mind we’re adding a layer of expertise,” Holcomb remarked.
When the Aviation Authority was disbanded in 2014, an ordinance was established for creating an Airport Advisory Committee, but no action has been taken on forming a committee until recently. Commissioners are now discussing what role the committee would play and how often they would meet- the 2014 ordinance would be amended to meet the requirements the commissioners agree upon.
It is clear that they do not wish for the Airport Advisory Committee to hear real estate matters such as consents to mortgage and lease agreements as it would prolong the time frame of such business dealings. County Administrator Len Sossamon explained that they would consider high level items such as the airport master plan and layout plan.
Sossamon also stated that the committee would be comprised of seven members. Each of the five commissioners would appoint a member and the county administrator would choose two. There would be no alternates and they would serve 4 year terms. Meetings would be publicized in advanced and recorded. There was some discussion on whether members could reside outside of the county, but seemed to agree for the most part that members must be residents of the county.
Commissioners would like to see consistent meetings- six mandatory meetings per year with meetings the option of requesting additional meetings if needed. The ordinance forming the committee was modeled after the Planning and Zoning Committee and it would function in a similar capacity. The BOCC would have final say on airport advisory committee recommendations.
Commissioner Mitten suggested there be a sunset clause, where the board must evaluate the committee’s performance in six years and decide on whether to keep the committee in place. However, the Board does have authority to pass an ordinance at any point dissolving the committee.
In a 4-1 vote, commissioners approved making the suggested changes to the ordinance and it will be brought back to the board Sept. 11 or the meeting thereafter for a final vote. Commissioner Dukes voted nay.