What might have been expected to be a typically perfunctory vote to select the Orlando airport’s board chair for the next couple of years turned into a power play that got nasty on Wednesday.
When it was over, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings — both Democrats — lost a political skirmish to the majority of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA) board members who are appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The result was Winter Park investor Carson Good, a DeSantis appointee, retaining the GOAA board chair for another two-year term, winning the board election with four votes to Dyer’s three.
The showdown, which did not provide any harsh words by or about Dyer or Demings but did with others, was the latest round in a series of political showdowns that have taken place at the Orlando airport board since DeSantis took office, between the local Democratic mayors Dyer and Demings and their allies, and Republican leaders in Tallahassee or their appointees.
What could have been a cordial power struggle at Wednesday’s monthly GOAA board meeting turned testy when Orlando businessman Craig Mateer — also a DeSantis’ appointee — turned on Good, brought up grievances involving others, and then later voted for Dyer to be chair, joining Demings and Dyer in that vote.
Mateer complained about Good’s handling of the previous GOAA Chief Executive Officer Phil Brown‘s departure, GOAA legal counsel Marcos Marchena departure, and “micro-managing” of the airports, without being specific.
Brown announced his retirement a year ago and left in January. Marchena’s resignation was less ceremonious, coming under a cloud in an unrelated matter at the University of Central Florida.
Then Mateer went after lobbyist Eric Foglesong, whose past guilty plea to theft — his adjudication is being withheld based on terms of a plea deal — became a reflection of GOAA issues with the federal government’s rules for airports. Mateer called it “beyond a bad decision” for Good to let Foglesong represent clients inside the airport.
Good lashed back at Mateer in a testy exchange.
Later, after being re-elected, Good contended that the Orlando airport had appeared to many people in power to be corrupt when Good was first appointed to the GOAA board. He said that he has has tried to steer a careful, middle course to fix things, and has never been told by DeSantis or anyone else how to vote.
Good gave less than praise for Brown. He then passionately defended Foglesong as “a good person” who deserves a second chance.
It all began after Kissimmee real estate executive Tim Weisheyer, a DeSantis appointee, nominated Good for a second term as GOAA’s board chair. That opened a monthly meeting that didn’t appear to have much drama in store.
But Dyer suggested that it might not be a good idea to give Good a second term.
Dyer argued that GOAA should let other board members rotate into the chair, as is done on all of the many other government agency boards that he and Demings serve on around Central Florida. He added, “Carson, I’m not poking at you.”
GOAA hasn’t really rotated board chairs for decades. Two fairly recent previous chairs, Jeff Fuqua and Frank Kruppenbacher, each served three or more terms in a row as GOAA’s board chair.
“I would suggest it would be a good thing if informally, not formally, we would agree to rotate the chairmanship starting this year,” Dyer said.
The argument put Dyer in an awkward position.
“You’ve been Mayor of the city of Orlando for how long?” Good poked.
“Nineteen years,” Dyer replied.
Demings joined Dyer, arguing that it would be wise for a volunteer board overseeing something as “uncommon” as Orlando International Airport, which manages billions of dollars of business, to not let power concentrate into one chair for too long.
Good’s corner had Weisheyer, Kissimmee Economic Development Director Belinda Ortiz Kirkegard, and Winter Park businessman John Evans, all DeSantis appointees, all of whom praised him for bringing accountability and transparency. Good appeared to have the votes even before Demings formally nominated Dyer as a challenger.
“You’ve done a good job. You brought in a lot of transparency. We have more workshops, more dialogue, than what I’ve seen past boards do,” Ortiz told Good.
Mateer’s attack on Foglesong — who was in the room — sparked a hostile exchange with Good.
“There’s an enabling of lobbyists and staff that I think we should be very aware of. And I’m going to be very blunt. When he (Good) brought Eric Foglesong in here, that was beyond a bad decision. You’ve got a lot of money coming through this environment, you’ve got a lot of things going through here. And that’s not appropriate in my opinion,” Mateer said.
Foglesong pleaded guilty a couple of years ago to stealing $20,000 from a political action committee he chaired to support the election of John Mina, who was elected Orange County Sheriff in 2018. When Foglesong completed court ordered sanctions, including paying restitution, the judge withheld adjudication, meaning no conviction was recorded, so Foglesong does not have an official criminal record. He continued on as a lobbyist, as he had done for many years.
Good expressed disbelief that Mateer would bring him up in a chair election debate.
“What are you talking about?” Good demanded, interrupting Mateer.
“You know what I’m talking about!” Mateer replied.
“OK. Again, we can maybe take that off line, but I’m being very upfront about that. And you know that.”
“You can’t disparage good people that are sitting here in the audience, and just start knocking people,” Good countered.
Later, Good elaborated on that. He pointed out that he long has sought second chances for people with criminal records, which Foglesong doesn’t even actually have. He said he’s working with the FAA to relax rules against felons working at the airport..
“He’s someone that an awful lot of people in this town support, like, and love,” Good said of Foglesong.
“I don’t know exactly what happened in that instance. But I have always pushed hard for forgiveness, as a Christian, as a human being,” he added. “I’m pushing hard. I’m working with the FAA right now, to try to relieve the ex-felon prejudices we have with the FAA.”
Good offered no such endorsements for others at the airport when he arrived.
“I started on this board three years ago amidst an enormous amount of chaos,” Good said.
“This is what the Governor wanted me to do. Kruckenbacher was in a heavy scandal, being investigated. Marcos was being investigated at UCF. There were all kinds of accusations of corruption at the airport. There were lobbyists being lambasted with supposedly being corrupt — not Eric Foglesong, other lobbyists,” Good said.
He said the state Auditor General, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and three different FBI agents came in to investigate, and none found anything that was worth pursuing.
“It turned into a lot of drama,” Good said.