Audit of Orlando airport ordered
State lawmakers made the request following contract controversy
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.