Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Murphy Looking for Aviation Acad Ans: Calls for Carswell, Barrett, HAECO to Appear at Committee 

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The conversation at Wednesday morning's Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) meeting unexpectedly turned to Columbia County's imploded Aviation Academy when new board member Charles Keith asked a question about a County economic development expenditure of $8,060 for a hydraulic test bench.

Mr. Keith, a pawn shop operator, is a Governor Scott appointed member of the Suwannee River Water Management District. It is unfortunate that he refuses to respect the Sunshine Law by refusing to speak up, making many of his remarks incomprehensible, as some of which can be heard are insightful and probing.

Charles Keith

Keith's Unexpected Question
Did it open a can of worms?

Twenty minutes into the hour and a half meeting, Mr. Keith asked about the purchase of an $8,060 hydraulic test bench, which was purchased with County Econ. Dev. funds.

County Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter explained, "That equipment is funded out of a grant. One is a USDA Grant; the other is a New Marketing Grant. We've expended that one completely. That was $11k. This is part of the $76k USDA Grant. It has a lot to do with those modules for students to work with."

Mr. Keith followed up, "-Unintelligible - aviation department at the college. Is that correct?"

Mr. Hunter replied, "That's not for the college aviation. The grant was for the High School aviation program."

Mr. Keith asked, "Where is that held at?"

Mr. Hunter explained that the program is on the HAECO property."It's a facility that the High School operates," he said.

Chairman Murphy Weighs In

After some discussion, where it seemed that nobody really knew what was going on at the Aviation Academy, or any of the aviation programs going on in the County, Chairman Murphy, the Chairman of the County 5 weighed in:

Chairman Mr. Murphy [as spoken]:  "At the next meeting I think I'll have Lex [Carswell, Supt. of Schools] come and give us a shakedown, because they are changing the operation of the High School aviation programs this upcoming school year.

It's my understanding they're not gonna' actually have core classes out there. Take that for what it's worth. But the ah -- but they are gonna' continue to have class, but for -- ya know -- year -- do -- he's -- new -- I know Grayson's – anyway, we just get an update of which way they're goin' with aviation because -- and it might be a good time to Glenn, we'll invite Mike McKee or a rep from the college that knows about that part of it. Or they may be able to educate he, but where the college is bound. Where they are headed with the aviation."

Mr. Hunter followed up, "The College was awarded a grant from the state."

Mr. Keith inquired, "Is this a certificate certification class that a High School student can take -- vocational type?

Hunter:  That's exactly what it is? ....

It is not.

A short while later, Mr. Hunter expanded on his previous answer: "The high school is just primarily introducing students to aviation and they're following the guidelines for what any employee would have to do to go to work at HAECO... They have an employee from HAECO that is actually teaching the students in the Aviation Academy?"

That teacher is not licensed to teach high school students.

Board member Stephen Douglas discussed aviation grants that were recommended for approval by the EDAB and approved by the County.

Chairman Murphy said, "If we are gonna' be adamantly workin' on these types of grants that's gonna' benefit the college and what have ya... the school board needs to come on board and give us at least quarterly update."

Local businessman and longtime member of the EDAB, Terry Dicks added, "It would be good if all three of them came here." [the College, the School District, HAECO]

Chairman Murphy agreed, "I think that would be a great idea."

FPL's Jeff Simmons: Maybe Not a Great Idea

FPL's Jeff Simmons, a longtime player in the economic underdevelopment of Columbia County, has demonstrated that he is not always a fan of the Sunshine when it comes to public meetings.

Mr. Simmons opined, "If they are uncomfortable in doing it in a public meeting, maybe we could set up something with them."

The Columbia County High School Aviation Program is funded by Columbia County taxpayers, Lake City taxpayers (who pay twice – through their City and County taxes), and the people of America, who fund the federal programs and grants, which are added to the national debt.

Invitations Are Going Out

At the end of business yesterday, Economic Development Director Hunter told the Observer that he has emails ready to go out today to School Superintendent Lex Carswell, College President Larry Barrett, and HAECO, inviting them to the next EDAB meeting, which is scheduled for July 11 at 8:30 am.

All photos file photos; hydraulic test bench - Boeing image

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

Posted on June 18, 0218, FGC President Dr. Larry Barrett wrote:

Florida Gateway College has neither received nor accepted any funding for equipment, personnel or consulting services from the Economic Development Department of Columbia County, or the North Florida Economic Development Partnership (NFEDP) for Aviation or any other funding from these entities over the past three years.

We have not yet received our invitation to the July meeting but after checking my schedule I will be out of town that week and will not be able to attend the meeting.

Lawrence Barrett, President of Florida Gateway College

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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