Lawmakers to discuss major change to local airport board

Editor’s note: Read about what happened at the Feb 23rd meeting here.

By Betsy Calvert, Charlotte Sun Staff Writer, Feb 17, 2021 

A plan to turn airport authority commissioners into at large representatives did not come up at a legislative delegation public meeting held in January in Punta Gorda. From left, Sen. Ben Albritton, Rep. Michael Grant, Sen. Joe Gruters (all are Republicans) gathered at the Punta Gorda Civic Association to hear state legislative requests for the coming year from citizens and organizational leaders. A request was withdrawn at the last minute in January for the city of Punta Gorda to take over the authority.

“The American people can see one-sided testimony, subpoenas, and leaks and can smell it for what it is. Couple that with bureaucrats who think they are policy makers, a whistleblower who isn’t actually a whistleblower, and a complicit news media, and you get what we saw already. Congressional Democrats have no crime, no treason, and no shame.” State Rep. Michael Grant (R-Port Charlotte)

Charlotte County legislators will discuss a proposed law Feb. 23 that would change how the Charlotte County Airport Authority members are elected. Up for debate is a plan to make all five Airport Authority commissioners elected at large instead of requiring each candidate to represent only one of the county’s five districts.

The county’s legislative delegation posted a small notice in The Daily Sun advertising the meeting, which will be held on Zoom. The 9 a.m. meeting comes a week before the Florida Legislature 2021 session starts.

If enacted, the new law would take effect in 2022, the same year that two seats on the commission are up for election. These are the seats for Robert Hancik and Kathleen Coppola. Hancik and Coppola were two of the three commissioners to vote against a historic proposal to sell partial management rights of the Punta Gorda Airport to private investors. The motion failed and led to a short-lived debate by the Punta Gorda City Council to investigate taking over the airport from the authority.

In favor of the privatization plan were two airport commissioners and state Rep. Michael Grant. Grant is also the father of one of the supportive commissioners, Vanessa Oliver.

Grant has denied being behind the legislative request to put the city in charge of the airport, a request that has since been withdrawn. He did not immediately return requests for comment on next week’s meeting, which will presumably include him.

Punta Gorda Airport, which has only one airline, would have been the first financially successful commercial airline airport in the nation to try out this management method. Opponents, including most tenants of the airport, argued why fix what is not broken. The one airline, Allegiant, has also said it does not support privatization, and Allegiant is considered to have veto power, according to federal regulation.

Reached for comment Wednesday, Charlotte County Commissioner Joe Tiseo said he is opposed to ending the current district representation approach for the authority. He also accused the legislative delegation of trying to slip in a new law at the 11th hour.

“I always feel that having equal representation throughout the county is the way to go,” Tiseo said. “The big question is what’s the impetus for the change? This wasn’t organic. It didn’t come from the community, so the question is, where is this coming from? Why change something that’s working? Is something not working?”

The proposed law is stated as “consideration of an act relating to the Charlotte County Airport Authority amending chapter 98-805. Laws of Florida as amended, relating to the election of commissioners, updating district residency to residency anywhere in the county.”

Image Credits: Betsy Calvert, Charlotte Sun. Left to right: Albritton, Grant & Gruters
Michael Grant provided photo