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Feds Step in to Stop Another Bad Idea in Manatee County

With any luck, more federal agencies will take an interest in Florida's most corrupt county


Earlier this month, TBT reported a significant development: the Federal Aviation Authority rejected a potentially game-changing deal between the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport Authority and New College of Florida. Had this deal been approved, SRQ would have sold over 30 acres of airport land to the State of Florida for New College's use.

In a previous column, I delved into the political motivations that mostly likely drove this deal, arguing that it was a misguided move that prioritized politics over the best interests of the community. The FAA's rejection letter echoed these concerns and underscored the potential negative consequences of such a deal.

When an airport intends to sell its land, it must first obtain FAA approval. In this case, both the airport authority and the New College Board of Trustees had given their approval before securing the FAA's consent. In a comprehensive five-page response, FAA Acting Manager Rebecca Henry politely, but firmly, explained the reasons for the rejection.

If I had to describe the tone of the letter, which can be viewed here, I'd go with: Why in the hell am I having to explain something that should be blatantly obvious to people who should definitely know better?

Henry's letter questions why a facility that brags of its endless growth would be looking to sell increasingly hard-to-come-by land, especially since its master plan "is thought to be at least six years old and is expected to be outdated, especially in light of the sponsor’s assertions they are the fastest growing airport in the country."

The letter also points out the obvious incompatibility one might expect from abutting the facilities of a growing college to a growing airport. Perhaps most troubling are the problems the letter describes when it comes to the appearance that the sale would take place below fair market value, a factor that seems to have been aided by a B.S. appraisal that looks to have been reverse-engineered to support the desired outcome.

When we get down to brass tacks, the true intent of this plan was laughably transparent. Gov. DeSantis decided to use the tiny little liberal arts honor college as a pawn in his War on Woke, the centerpiece of his spectacularly ineffective bid for the 2024 Republican Presidential nomination. He stacked its board with political cronies, grossly overpaid an unqualified political hack to be its president, and then went about trying to turn it into something it was never supposed to be and that the area has no need for, at the expense of a revered academic institution.

The Sarasota Airport Authority is already full of DeSantis’ political cronies, including Carlos Beruff. Its chairman is one of Beruff’s errand boys, Bob Spencer. GOP mega-donor Jesse Biter, who was also Rick Santorum’s Florida campaign manager, is on the board, as is Doug Holder, who represented south Sarasota County in the Florida House. Kristin Incrocci, owner of Lift Air Charter Services, and PGT Innovations President and CEO Jeff Jackson, round out the board.

While Rick Piccolo is the CEO and President of SRQ, the board of directors did not need his permission to sell the land; they only needed the FAA’s. Because the board hires and fires the CEO and decides how much he gets paid, it becomes evident how dangerous a highly politicized airport authority board can be. This near-fiasco underscores the perils of what I’ve often called the tyranny of one-party rule. Whether it is Democrats in California or Republicans in Texas and Florida, whenever a political party enjoys unchecked power in its capitol, good government rarely prevails over greed and graft.

If there is a hero in this story, it is John Schussler, the retired SRQ properties manager who tirelessly lobbied both the local press and the FAA to take an interest in the story and spent countless hours comprising lengthy analyses of each phase of the process. I don’t know whether the hamfisted plan would have slipped through the cracks had John not been screaming so loudly from the mountaintop, but I suspect that it might have.

Thank you, John. Our community, especially the future generations who will benefit most, owes you a debt of gratitude. It doesn’t happen often, especially in Manatee County, but sometimes the good guys win.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and the host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of experience as a journalist, he has covered Manatee County government since 2010. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here.


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  • WTF

    All concerns on a local level just get ignored such as setback for wetlands, building more homes than the infrastructures can handle and the list goes on and on dictated by the developers that control the local BOCC.

    The madness must stop.

    We need more federal agencies to get involved at every level as even our own state government including the Governor is bought and sold by our developers. Look no farther than the SOE office with a developer hand picked Bozo over and experienced person recommended by the retiring SOE, speaks volumes to this Citizen, taxpayer, and Voter.

    I would hope that a grand jury would look into this as well, but that office is also unresponsive to citizens’ concerns.

    What we allow .. will continue

    Saturday, April 27 Report this

  • kmskepton

    This is encouraging. The right person can make a difference. Now can that right someone please step in and and take action on our completely unqualified new SOE and Deputy SOE???

    Sunday, April 28 Report this

  • writerlynn9717

    I wholeheartedly agree that Manatee citizens need to start going over the head of local so-called local leaders. "If it walks like a duck..." Makes me also think of the dust storms that are so obviously polluting people while the leaders did nothing until citizens report to local media and higher authorities. Seems Schussler should be thanked and more of us follow his lead given that we are constantly bombarded with unreasonable and hurtful decisions by Manatee leaders.

    Sunday, April 28 Report this

  • Sari4manatee

    I strongly agree that it's crucial for us voters to make well-informed decisions in the upcoming election. The recent FAA decision serves as a critical reminder of why we need vigilant oversight and principled leadership. It's not just about party lines—it's about the qualifications and intentions of those who seek to represent us.

    The rejected land sale deal highlighted a potentially short-sighted move that could have jeopardized public resources for political gains. This incident clearly shows the importance of keeping a close eye on our local governance and ensuring that our community's best interests are not compromised by political maneuvers.

    Furthermore, the issues of one-party dominance speak to a larger truth about the necessity of balance in governance. Changing the composition of the county commission could lead to more diverse viewpoints and more equitable decision-making.

    I'm inspired by the activism of individuals like John Schussler, who pushed for transparency and accountability. His efforts remind us that meaningful change is possible when we, as concerned citizens, get involved. Let's bring this energy to the elections by thoroughly vetting our candidates to ensure that those who take office are genuinely here to serve the community, not their own interests.

    Let's use this election to advocate for a government that represents our values and addresses our concerns—from traffic issues to environmental protection. We have the power to vote for change, for better governance, and for a community where every voice is heard and matters. Let's make our votes count this November!

    Sunday, April 28 Report this

  • Charles

    The rational action of the federal agency sure has changed the game, eh? New College might have survived a quick understanding of its inability to become the trophy in these games, but it seems likely that the college is a mortally wounded victim that now, also will have to endure a protracted demise.

    Sunday, April 28 Report this

  • David Daniels

    Why, since at least 2016, do we equate cronyism and corruption with one party? (with the exception of one, twice- indicted D Senator from NJ) Local, State and Nationally, the R party has become the party of any means justifies the end. The Obama/Biden Administrations of 2008-2016 and 2020-2024 hasn't had a single forced resignation - not even a law enforcement investigation, that I am aware of. If Trump, or any R would have been in the White House, the FAA would have been ordered to approve this bad deal, Schussler or not. Beruff and DeSantis would have had their way and expanded New College to the detriment of the public. And to learn that Bill Galvano, a man I once respected as being in the vein of a Joe McClash, is just another corrupt MAGA no-integrity Republican is a huge disappointment. The R party has lost their way. They have lost the ability to accept facts.They have lost the idea that we are a Nation of Laws. We are on a path leading to violence.

    Sunday, April 28 Report this