Au­dit of Or­lando air­port or­dered

State law­mak­ers made the re­quest fol­low­ing con­tract con­tro­versy

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Ja­son Gar­cia

State law­mak­ers or­dered an au­dit Thurs­day of the agency that runs Or­lando In­ter­na­tional Air­port, fol­low­ing a failed bid by some of the agency’s lead­ers to give un­ad­ver­tised con­tracts to new lawyers.

The au­dit of the Greater Or­lando Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity was re­quested by state Sen. Jeff Bran­des, a Repub­li­can from St. Petersburg who said he was con­cerned by me­dia re­ports ear­lier this year of po­ten­tial Sun­shine Law vi­o­la­tions when the au­thor­ity’s seven-mem­ber gov­ern­ing board was wrestling over re­plac­ing the air­port’s top at­tor­ney.

“We’re just au­dit­ing the pro­cure­ment prac­tices of the air­port,” Bran­des told other mem­bers of the Joint Leg­isla­tive Au­dit­ing Com­mit­tee in Tal­la­has­see, who then voted to have the of­fice of the Florida Au­di­tor Gen­eral launch a re­view.

The Or­lando air­port au­thor­ity was en­gulfed in con­tro­versy this sum­mer when the agency’s long­time gen­eral counsel an­nounced he would re­tire, fol­low­ing months of pres­sure from al­lies of Gov. Ron DeSan­tis.

Then the board’s five gu­ber­na­to­rial ap­pointees — four of whom

had been ap­pointed by DeSan­tis at the be­gin­ning of the year — at­tempted to give no-bid, tem­po­rary gen­eral counsel con­tracts to two new lawyers, de­spite ob­jec­tions from Or­lando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Dem­ings, the only elected of­fi­cials on the board.

Af­ter in­tense out­side crit­i­cism and a se­ries of sto­ries in the Or­lando Sentinel, the board backed down from that plan and agreed to so­licit pro­pos­als from any in­ter­ested law firms. Af­ter re­view­ing sub­mis­sions, the agency in Novem­ber chose Dan Ger­ber of Rum­berger

Kirk & Cald­well to be its in­terim gen­eral counsel for six months while it eval­u­ates whether to bring the top le­gal job in-house on a per­ma­nent ba­sis.

But some of the agency’s crit­ics — most notably U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Pan­han­dle Repub­li­can who is very close with DeSan­tis and ad­vised the gov­er­nor on some of his air­port board ap­pointees — said they would con­tinue to push for an au­dit of the air­port.

Bran­des, who rep­re­sents a dis­trict 100 miles from Or­lando, used to serve in the state House with Gaetz and for­mer state Rep. Chris Dor­worth, a Repub­li­can from Semi­nole County who is now a lob­by­ist and was in­volved in the air­port con­tro­versy this sum­mer.

An­other law­maker who spoke up Thurs­day in fa­vor of an au­dit of the air­port: Sen. Den­nis Bax­ley, a Repub­li­can from Ocala who tried and failed to pass a law ear­lier this year aimed at forc­ing Dyer off of the air­port board. Records ob­tained by the Sentinel show that Bax­ley was asked to file the mea­sure by one of DeSan­tis’ top ap­pointees.

“At the some point, the Leg­is­la­ture should also look at the struc­ture be­cause all of the seats on the air­port au­thor­ity do not ro­tate the same, and that is a con­cern to me,” Bax­ley said.

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