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Sunday, Mar 29, 2015

Rowden calls Schraut 'a bully'


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BROOKSVILLE - County Commissioner Diane Rowden on Tuesday publically unloaded on the chairman of the county's aviation authority, calling him a bully with anger management issues.

Rowden also accused Gary Schraut of trying to discredit County Administrator Len Sossamon by sending emails to various people suggesting he is part of a plot to help an old friend land a job at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

She stopped short of asking for Gary Schraut's removal from the chairmanship of the aviation board and urged the board to explore options for dealing with the man.

She didn't get any support for Schraut's ejection. In fact, nobody on the board except the commission's chairman, Dave Russell, ventured a remark.

And Russell said he stands "100 percent" behind Schraut.

Russell said Schraut has "applied himself to a huge degree" to make sure the rules and regulations are adhered to at the airport, that it operates in concurrence with Federal Aviation Administration mandates, and that the airport is the recipient of grants to help it grow.

Rather than be removed, he should be commended, Russell said.

"No one person has put more into that airport than Gary Schraut," he said.

Rowden said she was in Washington, D.C. when she met Gary Walker, who runs a marketing firm in North Carolina, where Sossamon hailed from.

She found he was a friend of Sossamon's and that he might be interested in moving his company to Hernando County.

Rowden suggested Walker even do a marketing plan for the airport, but Walker declined both that idea and a move to Hernando County.

Now, Rowden said Schraut is trying to paint the Walker-Sossamon connection as some kind of conspiracy.

"Gary Schraut has no problem distorting the facts to (further) his agenda," Rowden said. "He's the root of the cause of controversy and upheaval at the airport."

Once Rowden returned to Hernando County, she contacted Sossamon, who said he worked with the commissioner to try and get Walker to move his company to the Hernando County airport, and whether he would like to conduct a marketing study of the airport.

Rowden said she made Sossamon aware of it when she returned to Hernando County, and the county administrator offered his help in trying to recruit him.

Sossamon later told Hernando Today that Walker submitted a proposal and had to go through the formal request for proposal process.

But it never got to that point, because Walker chose not to pursue it, Sossamon said.

Hernando Today learned that Sossamon was a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2000, and that Walker contributed $1,700 to his campaign.

Sossamon, who was a Democrat at that time, had been appointed by the governor to fill an unexpired term.

He lost re-election.

Sossamon, now a registered Republican, said he couldn't recall if Walker had made a contribution, but that it made no difference because many people did so in his run for re-election.

Sossamon apologized Tuesday to anyone who took offense to recent comments directed toward Schraut regarding the completed lease of a building on airport grounds.

Schraut declined comment about Tuesday's meeting.

Rowden did get some like-minded opinions from at least two audience members.

Longtime government watchdog Anthony Palmieri agreed that it may be time for the county to consider Schraut's future on the aviation board.

Palmieri, who said he has attended one authority meeting in his life, said it was clear Schraut and that board wielded too much power, and seem to forget they represent an advisory board.

"I have a feeling Mr. Schraut has been on the board too long and I think he should consider resigning," Palmieri said.

Paul Douglas, president of the Hernando County NAACP, asked for a top-down accounting of the entire aviation board because of recent questionable moves made during what he called "the Schraut regime."

Douglas said there are times where it seems "they just go after the people who bring up issues instead of the issues."

Commissioner Jim Adkins said he thinks Rowden was "out of line" for bringing up the Schraut-Sossamon matter in a public meeting, and it should have taken place in private.

Adkins said he heard a rumor that Sossamon had been active politically, but didn't know the specifics.

Adkins said cooler heads need to prevail.

"All this stuff needs to calm down a bit," he said. "We don't need to be bashing people back and forth. We have more important things to do."

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