It’s always easy to see when politics show up. The first thing to exit the room is logic.
Such was the case Tuesday, when three county commissioners mysteriously decided to ignore five years of business success at the Inverness Airport in favor of who knows what.
Let’s talk about it.
If ever there was an easy call, it’s renewing the five-year contract with Right Rudder Aviation for fixed-based operator (FBO) services at Inverness Airport.
Anyone who has lived on this side of the county for 10 years or more knows what that airport was once like. Tumbleweeds.
The county cycled through FBOs and then brought in Right Rudder Aviation, which didn’t mean much to me. But I started hearing good things about the airport and this dynamic couple, Andy Chan and Shavonna Reid.
We met in late 2021. I was just starting to try and create some Just Wright Citrus buzz, gearing up for the website debut in January. I attended a Wilton Simpson fundraiser at M&B Dairy and sat at their table.
We started talking and Shavonna said they were loyal Just Wright Citrus readers. I didn’t know anyone was reading let alone community business leaders such as these. We chatted a few weeks later at their airport office about all they were doing — I understood approximately, oh, 0.2% of what they said.
I came away with two observations:
— These are two smart business people who don’t slow down. They have not only proven their value at the airport (take a look at this report Andy provided commissioners on Tuesday), but they’re also active in the community.
— The Inverness Airport is alive! I cannot overemphasize to you the significance of that statement. The airport was deader than dead for YEARS until this couple showed up.
So, yeah, immediately impressed with Shavonna and Andy. A few months into Just Wright Citrus, Right Rudder Aviation joined as a sponsoring advertiser. While I’m super proud to have all the sponsors that carry this website, Right Rudder is one of those big names on campus.
Now, there was a complication to the lease. I’ll try to explain this quickly. Andy planned to build a $5 million corporate hangar. To do that, he’d want a 50-year ground lease for the hangar which, I’m told, the county has provided to others at the Crystal River Airport.
To satisfy investors in the $5 million hangar, Right Rudder had to be FBO the length of the ground lease — 50 years. Well, no way county commissioners are going to go for a 50-year FBO lease and they shut that down immediately Tuesday.
So it came to a simple five-year FBO lease extension. Easy peasy for a company that has provided five times the economic output at the Inverness Airport since when it started.
Even Frank Calascione, the county’s highly respected economic development director, said five years was appropriate.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard was on board for five years. Commissioner Rebecca Bays at first said 1 year but agreed to five years after hearing from Calascione. Finegan and Davis wouldn’t budge and three of them compromised on two years — which is a real kick in the Right Rudder shins. Kinnard voted against it.
Supposedly this is to line up with the results of an airport consultant’s report. As chamber CEO Josh Wooten put it, we’re tossing aside what works for what we hope will work better.
Not digging up old bones but every single time I’ve seen this it spells trouble. Commissioners pushing policy but not being entirely up front about why. There may be a good reason why Finegan, Davis and Bays don’t want Right Rudder to stick around long-term as Inverness Airport FBO.
We haven’t a real clue what that is.
And here’s another thing that, oddly, not a single commissioner asked: What happens on Sept. 1 if Right Rudder isn’t the airport FBO?
When politics shows up, logic goes out the window. Consider:
You tell me: Does that fly right?
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.