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Mon, Oct 20, 2003

Lakeland Airport: 'Gang That Can't Shoot Straight' Turning Into Den Of Thieves?

Airport Manager Arrested, City Atty Caught in "Ethics Lapse"

The melodrama surrounding the Lakeland Florida airport seems to be cranking into high gear with the Thursday arrest of the recently resigned Airport manager, Charles Gunter. Gunter resigned his job as Airport Manager last month, within days of losing his second-in-command (who was about to be fired for OTHER ethical breaches). This occurred as the FL State Attorney's Office began an investigation into (then) undisclosed issues at the airport.

Gunter was charged Thursday with four counts, the worst of them 'grand theft,' for modifying and increasing the cost of contract(s) with an  contractor who was doing maintenance on the hangar doors of LAL's Hangar 4. The contractor has also been charged with four felonies. According to the charges against both, Gunter allegedly received a 27-foot fishing boat as a result of the shady deal with the aforementioned contractor. Gunter continues to deny any criminal behavior and has claimed that the boat was actually purchased by his son.

In the meantime; other info continues to be received by ANN about all sorts of interesting arrangements at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, and the blind eye that the city has utilized for years to see little of what was going on. A member of a local citizen's organization claims to have headed off the taking of what might charitably be called untoward "freebies" by city commission members from Sun 'n Fun, some time ago. He states that City Commission members were all set to take up SnF on the offer of free B-17 rides (which are normally sold to the public for several hundred dollars) until he objected and informed them of possible ethical and legal restrictions on the acceptance of such "gratuities." It is interesting to note that a number of city officials, including a former City Manager and active members of the Lakeland PD have also been appointed to the SnF board and may have received special treatment as a result (and in one case we know of, appear to have engaged in some questionable actions that seem to smack of conflict of interest). Other concerns center around the land deals made between the city and SnF... more info to follow.

City Atty, Tim McCausland, Tipped Gunter About Investigation

In the interim; one particularly egregious ethical lapse centers around the Lakeland City Atty, Timothy McCausland, well-known to some ANN readers for his having disseminated admittedly false and prejudicial information (given him by Sun n Fun) to them in regards to the SnF ban on ANN Editor-In-Chief, Jim Campbell--who has been banned (in violation of law, according to a number of legal experts) from the event and the Federally funded airport property after writing a number of pieces citing concerns over critical safety issues. In McCausland's latest escapade, it was revealed that he actually informed Gunter of the investigation being conducted about him after receiving some "anonymous" information alleging improper conduct. State Atty Jerry Hill, in a Lakeland Ledger story by Rick Rousos (who's doing some pretty darned good work on these issues), noted that the city attorney should not have discussed an ongoing police investigation with Gunter. "It should not have been done -- it was a criminal investigation," Hill said. "And nobody knew better than McCausland that it was a criminal investigation."

We'll keep you apprised on the latest in the saga of the 'Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight," as we have a feeling that this stuff is but the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned.

FMI: www.lakelandgov.net/airport

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