Last week, I was personally attacked and my character impugned during a public Board of County Commissioners meeting by Len Sossamon and Commissioner Wayne Dukes over an article I had written titled, “What have you done for me lately?” The article was an editorial highly critical of Len Sossamon, Hernando County’s Economic Development Manager and County Administrator.
Normally, I do not respond to criticisms of this sort. But, the fact that Commissioner Jim Adkins appeared to agree with Sossamon’s prepared presentation and slide show caused me to pause and consider a response.
I have always considered Commissioner Adkins a friend and one of the most dedicated and hardest working commissioners on the board. As such, the fact that he didn’t question Sossamon’s presentation bothered me.
With that in mind, I’d first like to respond to Mr. Sossamon’s insinuation that I had not read the TreeUmph! lease contract. Not only have I read it, I actually published the lease contract in an article dated March 18, 2015 and titled “TreeUmph! Good Deal or Bad Deal?”
And, whether I’ve read it or not does not change Sossamon’s questionable decision of giving away a $300,000 piece of property (46 acres) in order to create 15 minimum wage jobs which is what Sossamon did.
From my reading of the contract, I understand that they (TreeUmph!) have been planning all along to open in the Fall of 2016. And honestly, I hope they do. I wish no ill will on the owners of this company. Sossamon has made a deal, the county must abide by it. But, as stated in my article, there doesn’t appear to be any activity on the property that would indicate that they will open in 2016. I’ll stand by that statement.
Then Sossamon proclaimed that Transformation Aviation Services (TAS) had eight employees on the payroll. I must admit, I almost fell out of my chair when I heard Sossamon say this. Why you ask? Because months before I’d asked for this information and was told point blank by the county that it didn’t exist. They referred me to the TAS contract which stated that TAS didn’t have to report how many employees they had until July of 2016. That’s why I wrote in my article, “We have been unable to document one single job created from these deals after nearly a year.”
Mr. Sossamon, had I known that you had created eight whole jobs, I would have gladly reported it. So, after you made this statement, I did what any investigative reporter, or responsible blogger, would do. I asked for verification from the county on the jobs created.
To date, I have not received any verification what-so-ever documenting the TAS employee claims Sossamon made. In fact, there has been no response to this request or any of my other follow up emails about the request. In light of this fact, and the Florida Supreme Courts recent ruling concerning ‘Public Records Requests,’ my attorneys and I are considering litigation.
After making the job claims, Sossamon then presented pictures of the TAS hangar and three specific airplanes that these here-to-fore undocumented employees were working on (see below). As a pilot, the first thing I noticed was that the identification numbers in the pictures had been photo-shopped. The numbers had been removed. I-n-t-e-r-e-s-t-i-n-g. Why?
So, as an investigative reporter or responsible blogger, I started digging. This is what I learned:
The identification numbers for the three planes pictured in the hangar are N774TS, TR-LGY, and N517BB.
- The N774TS is a Hawker-Siddeley F400 owned by a practicing doctor (name purposely withheld) who is storing the plane in the TAS hangar. We have confirmed that the plane is not being worked on through independent sources. Despite Sossamon’s assertions, it is not being “transformed.”
- The TR-LGY is a Dassault Falcon 50 that was owned by Afrijet based out of Africa and was recently sold for scrap. According to my sources, it sold for a couple hundred thousand dollars. The new owners are working out a plan to remove the plane from the current hangar as soon as possible. Again, despite Sossamon’s assertions, it is not being “transformed.”
- The last plane, N517BB, is a Challenger Bombardier 600 and it is owned by the same doctor who owns the Hawker-Siddeley F400 mentioned above. It is having some minor interior woodwork
done. However, the work is being performed by an outside company. So, while technically the plane is being “transformed,” it isn’t being transformed by TAS.
(Not too bad for a blogger ehhhh)
Not one single plane pictured is being refurbished by TAS according to my many sources at the airport. And, I used several.
Commissioner Adkins, that fact along with the county’s failure to respond to my records request to document employees should concern you.
The agreement with TAS provides for three years of free rent at $10,473 a month costing Hernando County taxpayers $377,028.
What’s interesting about this situation is that Corporate Jet Solutions (CJS) was paying nearly the same amount in monthly rent on the very same property before being evicted over property maintenance issues. CJS currently has a lawsuit pending against the county that appears to be moving forward. A local judge recently ruled against the county in a ‘motion to dismiss’ hearing.
The question is, why did Sossamon make this deal with TAS? It would have cost far less to settle the maintenance issues with CJS than enter into a new contract with TAS that will cost Hernando taxpayers $377,000.
Plus, I’ve since learned that no less than three current businesses at the airport, who want to expand, were interested, and are still interested, in that very same building. And, they are willing to pay the fair market rate for the building. That being the case, why give away $377,000 in taxpayer money to a startup company when you have existing businesses willing to pay the fair market rate?
Responding to Sossamon’s very slick presentation last week, Commissioner Jim Adkins stated, “from my perspective, I appreciate the pictures and facts. They make a little bit of difference in this.”
Jim, I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to hear that. But, now that you know the truth (or lack thereof) behind those pictures and facts Sossamon presented, will you do the peoples work and investigate these inconsistencies? If not you, who? Get in the game. Please.
Update 4-23-16 8:00 a.m.: Roughly 5 1/2 hours after publishing this article, the county responded to the public records request concerning documentation for the eight employees. Basically, they said they don’t have a document verifying eight employees, that they were working on it, and that they needed more time.
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