Orlando city employees had been snickering for days about the impending doom of District 1 Commissioner Don Ammerman. On Monday, Jan. 14, it became official: Ammerman will no longer be the city's representative to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, the board that oversees the operation of the international airport and its $265 million budget.
Mayor Glenda Hood found someone she liked more -- herself -- and quietly placed her name among a routine list of appointments that council members approved that day. Ammerman, whose two-year term on the authority ends in April, took the news graciously. "I thank the council and my peers for allowing me to `serve`," he said.
His was a far different attitude than the one on display the last time the council voted someone off the airport board. That someone was Hood, who two years ago was booted by a council whose majority backed her opponent in a nasty mayoral contest. Hood instantly complained that commissioners were making a "political statement" with their action just weeks before the election, then threatened a veto and delayed the vote while the city attorney researched the propriety of the council's actions. In the end, Hood went down in rare defeat.
Yet, if commissioners hadn't been made to feel like second-class citizens, Hood likely never would have been voted off the board. Four of the six council members at the time -- Ammerman, Ernest Page, Betty Wyman and Bruce Gordy -- felt their voices had diminished on the council to such a point that Gordy ran against Hood with the endorsement of his disgruntled peers.
Now, with Ammerman removed from the airport board, the council seems to have come full circle, with commissioners again left wishing for a larger role in city government. "The airport is such an important part of the community, I hope that every single sitting commissioner has an opportunity to hold that seat," Ammerman said, although he knows it's not likely.
The airport board, along with the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority and the Economic Develop-ment Council (EDC), is among the most influential of civic boards. (Hood also sits on the EDC, in addition to such lesser boards as those that oversee the Orlando Utilities Commission and the Lynx transit agency.) Five of the airport board's seven members are appointed by the governor. The sixth seat, appointed by Orange County, has been filled by the occupant of the county chairman's office since the county moved to a charter form of government in 1990.
Politically, the airport board's clout is measured in the millions of dollars it doles out in construction projects, meaning that contractors, such as Beers Construction, are willing to contribute at election time to ensure they have "access."
"There's a lot of prestige on these boards," says Linda Stewart of the watchdog agency Countywatch. "There's huge contracts that affect the city and county."
Or, as Stewart points out, maybe Hood is taking a defensive position. Ammer-man's name is among those oft mentioned as a candidate for mayor in 2004. "Maybe Hood doesn't want him having access to money," Stewart suggests.
Hood spokeswoman Susan Blexrud defends her boss, saying it makes sense for the mayor to sit on the airport board in light of Sept. 11 because Hood is chairman of the governor's security advisory panel. And since -- in the mayor's favorite characterization -- Hood is Orlando's CEO, she needs to be involved in the airport at the highest levels to prevent communication breakdowns, says Blexrud.
But what about opening up the boards to as many people as possible? "In most instances, that would be a good point," Blexrud says. "For GOAA, she felt as CEO she needed to be on it."
Where does that leave the rest of the council? Apparently, not in such good shape. "Glenda makes all the appointments with little input from the commissioners," says Gordy, the former council member. "She takes all these important positions, leaving whatever else to commissioners to parcel out. I think it's good to give other people an opportunity."