More intrigue at Hillsborough County Aviation Authority

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However, fellow board members who backed Miller (including Mayor Pam Iorio) were embarrassed days later, when it was reported that Moffitt Cancer Center was interested in renting the building, at possibly more than $600,000 in annual rent (however, last week the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported that Moffitt had provided a written proposal to rent the facility for $300,000 annually).

That incident followed December's meeting, in which Burton made a motion to create a committee on airport international marketing, to be chaired by himself.  Burton claimed that previous attempts to get information on the subject had been “stiff-armed” by Miller, a charge the executive director denied. That committee was approved over Miller's objections, and has already met once.

The Times piece quotes former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman and local activist James Ransom, as objecting to Burton's methods, blaming him for the recent discord.

"People who follow these things are speculating there's a hidden agenda,'' said Sandy Freedman, who was on the board during her term as Tampa mayor. "Most new members listen and learn. (Burton) didn't sound like he was prepared to do that. It sounds like he has someone else in mind.''

James Ransom, a Tampa community activist, wrote Crist with similar concerns. "Unfortunately, there appears to be a tug of war emerging as a result of Mr. Burton's tactics, which may disrupt an otherwise stellar operation,'' he said in a Dec. 14 e-mail.

There is no question that Burton has been aggressive since being named by Governor Crist to serve on the authority.  But as CL reported back in December, his questions and concerns about what has been perceived by some members of the community as a lack of drive to try to bring more direct international flights to TIA has been an ongoing concern for years. What Burton appears to be guilty of in the international flights case is perhaps indecorous behavior (which led to a smackdown by the editorial pages of the Times and the Tribune immediately after that December meeting).

When it comes to the Continental Airlines building story, however, Burton appears only to be guilty of responding when asked about the incident.  Independent reporting presented the facts that the County was apparently willing to let hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent go away because of the whims of the executive director.

As we reported earlier in this story, today the Florida Airports Council is meeting with state lawmakers today in Tallahassee on to present their legislative agenda.  Louis Miller is the President of the FAC.  We can't provide a direct link, but you can get it directly by clicking on the State Summit Brochure link.  Check out the priorities for this year:

FAC’s Legislative Issues for 2010

• Support protection of aviation grant program; protection of aviation fuel tax revenues; and protection

of sales tax exemptions that support a strong aviation industry in Florida

• Support establishment of improved regulations pertaining to disposal of abandoned property, vehicles,

and aircraft

• Support legislation protecting confidential proprietary business information from public records


• Support legislation exempting aircraft assembly and manufacturing from concurrency requirements of

local government comprehensive plans

• Support sunset of SAFE Council and transfer of United We Stand funds and future revenues to FDOTfor general aviation airport security projects

• Oppose revenue restrictions on airports; oppose potential increases in rental car surcharges

If that third priority was in effect in the last year, Hillsborough County citizens would not have been able to learn about the business dealings on issues like the Continental Airlines Building.  CL has just put a call in to Louis Miller's office for comment and we hope to speak to him today about that measure.

Also we should also write that the Times reports that Steve Burton's law firm, Broad & Cassel, is general counsel to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which runs the Orlando Airport, and that Broad and Cassel received $1.3 million from the Authority, leading critics to allege a conflict of interest, or appearance of conflict of interest. Burton denies any conflict, saying he doesn't make any money from that Orlando connection.

This morning St. Petersburg Times transportation reporter Steve Huettel reports on the job status of Louis Miller, the executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.  The story comes as Miller today is in Tallahassee, where as President of the Florida Air Council he is discussing with lawmakers the legislative priorities of the council going into the regular session next month (please read  below for more details).

Miller has been under fire the previous two months, specifically after Channel 10 reporter Mike Deeson first reported that he had decided to demolish the former Continental Airlines reservations center at the airport unilaterally, without getting the board's approval (at the last board meeting, the board's counsel ruled that he was within his legal rights to do so).  It was later revealed that Miller had consulted only with Authority chairman Al Austin, who just happens to also own commercial property near the airport.  Among the reasons that the two agreed that it was wise to raze the building was the vacancy rate in the Westshore area being over 20%.  But at the Aviation Board's January 7th meeting, board member Steve Burton called for a delay in the demolition until the board could get a full report on what led to Miller's thinking.  But Burton was on the losing end of that fight, 3-1.

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