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Right Rudder's better story

County commission Tuesday. Which might turn into a county commission Wednesday as well with the debate over the Ozello camping ground starting at 5 p.m. following a regular meeting today. Thank you to several people who reached out yesterday, I do want to start today with a correction to yesterday’s show that I said the glamping ground passed the PDC but it actually failed 6-1. That doesn’t change my opinion of the project but I did read some of the comments on the Just Wright Citrus page yesterday and tonight is no doubt going to be a long one.

I do want to sincerely congratulate Mike for prompting that conversation. Look, I’m hard on him and the Chronicle, not out of hate or spite, but rather because the potential is there to be such great media members…and then they go and do something inexplicable and I’m left trying to count to 10 before reacting. This morning’s Just Wright Citrus did just that and I’ll get to that in the main topic.

I’ve never been an awards guy but for a long time in college, when you’re looking for a reason to turn any random day into a party, the Oscars were a good reason to celebrate not being Leonardo DiCaprio. Before his 2016 best actor win, Leo was always the bridesmaid, never the bride at the stars brightest night, and even though you might think it would be cool to be famous, that one night was always a reminder that it felt pretty good not to be one.

And that might be the case for some people tonight. You may have had ambitions to be a commissioner, be referred to as the county boss and honored in many of the ceremonies you attend. But then there’s days like today. Much like Leo and the Oscars, today is absolutely one of those days to celebrate not being a commissioner. The regular meeting is also going to get an update on the animal shelter, which will hopefully be positive but likely spark another conversation over concerns having to do with funding.

The Chronicle editorial was well wishes to the New Church Without Walls as they begin a move, I would like to echo those well wishes. Two headlines of note: one about lake levels not having returned to normal despite the crazy rains and the other about tourism being, not slow, but soft this year.

These shows have been running a little longer than I like lately so I’ll get right into the main topic which will, mercifully for the last time, be Right Rudder Aviation that I heard independently to corroborate the Just Wright Citrus blog claim that they should be signing a five year deal rather than a two year deal today to stay as the Inverness fixed base operator. This is great news, but it’s also a cautionary tale and the main topic has to do with storytelling.

You know what it’s not? It’s not an absolute. I often use the philosophical joke “there are no absolutes” which is not a profound statement of fact but rather a punch line. The statement itself is an absolute rendering it contradictory. What does an absolute look like? Quoting from Just Wright Citrus: “Right Rudder has done nothing to deserve anything less than full support.” That’s an absolute. It also was the reason I had to count to 10 before responding this morning. In fact, just saying it outloud again has made me need to reset so while I practice some deep breathing, here’s audio I almost used for that’s just wrong, it’s 10 seconds with Johnathan Frakes telling you something is fiction, *

Okay! I’m feeling much better now. Let’s get to the topic.

When I was an 18 year old college student, the first class I ever took was called Great Books. You know what we learned about? Fishing tackle, that’s right. I was still a teenager, living on my own for the first time, and the class could have easily turned into paying a school $15,000 for them to go tell me to go read Edgar Allan Poe and then I don’t.

But that’s not what happened. Because the first of six great books they assigned was the Life of Pi. Now, if you don’t want spoilers to a book that has been published for 22 years and subsequently made into a movie 11 years ago, then just slide your audio bar ahead a minute and a half but I think it’s safe to say that if you didn’t get to it in its first two decades then it’s fair game to describe.

In brief summary, the son of zookeepers in India are moving to Canada, bringing some of their animals with them when the freighter wrecks. The boy is stranded on a life raft with a wounded zebra, an orangutan, and a hyena. The hyena eats the zebra, and then eventually comes for the boy but the orangutan steps in and is killed by the hyena, and just when it looks like the hyena will finish the feast on the boy, a bengal tiger leaps up and kills the beast. The boy, Pi, then journeys across the ocean with the bengal tiger, who he names Richard Parker, and eventually they make it to land.

Once there, Pi is interrogated by insurance inspectors in the hospital and he tells them the animal story, and of course, they don’t believe him. How could a boy travel across the ocean with a bengal tiger. And so Pi tells them a different story. He struggled aboard a life raft with a wounded young sailor, a deranged cook, and his mother. The cook cuts the sailor apart and uses his body parts as bait and food, and when Pi’s mother tries to intervene before the cook can set his sights on Pi, the cook kills Pi’s mother, and when it is just Pi and the cook alone, Pi finds it inside of him to kill, and even eat, the cook. The inspectors begin to put it together. It’s the same story. The wounded zebra is the sailor, the hyena is the crazed cook, the orangutan is Pi’s mother and Richard Parker, the begal tiger, is the animalistic instinct and rage hidden in Pi he neither understood nor accepted.

The literary device is called the better story and it’s my favorite. It’s changing the narrative just enough to make an otherwise unbearably cruel world seem like it’s full of magic and wonder.

But for something to be a better story, it needs to have trace elements of the truth in it. That’s what I struggled with in the Just Wright Citrus piece so much today. To use the absolute and claim Right Rudder has done nothing to deserve anything less than full support is not a retelling of the truth in a better story, it’s a complete fabrication of a lie. What’s most bothersome, though, is that there doesn’t seem to be any reason to lie other than to help his friends and hurt his enemies, which is a really disingenuous motivation for action by someone who calls themselves part of the media. Because the story of Right Rudder is one worth telling, and that’s what we’re going to do now.

I wrestled with this one because I didn’t want to tear a private business down, and that’s not my intention here, but part of the media’s job is to find publicly available information and contextualize it for public consumption. Using a website called Pacermonitor, I found lawsuits that read like a 1980s Wall Street movie. Here’s the story:

Right Rudder had agreed in September of 2021 to be the exclusive North American dealer of an Italian plane company named Pipistrel. Their Alpha Trainer planes were immensely popular with commercial airlines looking to get new pilots required flight hours, and so it wasn’t long before Right Rudder landed a deal with an Arizona-based company called Mesa Airlines to sell 29 planes to them with a handshake option to sell 75 more over the next year, news big enough to be reported in the Chronicle. According to a public record lawsuit, the sale of the 29 planes alone would mean roughly $2 million in commission for Right Rudder under its agreement with Pipistrel. But storm clouds were gathering. The big bad wolf entered the picture.

Textron, a company valued around $14 billion that owns popular aviation brands like Cessna, purchased Pipistrel initially agreeing to honor preexisting contracts with vendors like Right Rudder that the previous company had. The suits, as I’ll refer to Textron from here on out, tried everything they could to keep our high flying hero down. They limited the number of planes Right Rudder could sell to any one group to five, calling anything like the Mesa deal a fleet sale thus severely capping Right Rudder’s ability to earn commissions. Eventually, despite much assurance to the contrary, the inevitable happened. Despite the overwhelming success and hard work from deals negotiated to trade shows attended, the contract was terminated entirely under the suits orders. And so our small business did the only thing he could do. David sued Goliath and that’s how I found this on Pacermonitor.

Now this once prosperous business with extraordinary potential and results that ended up benefiting the suits has to wait until December of 2025 to even potentially have a trial according to public record, and in the meantime, they must assure investors that despite this unforeseen, completely uncontrollable setback, that they are still a company worth backing. Enter the slicks. These would be the county commission. These slicks also tried to pull a fast one on this visionary. What was meant to be a formality of a contract extension is suddenly a fight for their lives as a request for an extension is met with harsh retribution by the slicks, narrowing the terms of the deal down to just one or two years. How could they do this? After everything this company has done. But, just like the greedy suits that cut the little guy out, so too do the slicks like to flaunt power. Which is what makes today so satisfying. Today should resolve in a five-year deal, up from two years, and while it’s not everything Right Rudder wanted, it’s finally a win against authority and a step in the right direction. That’s one story.

But the same lawsuit also quotes Right Rudder on page 26 as being “all-in” on the Pipistrel relationship, a worrisome term from a business perspective especially regarding something that no longer exists. The lawsuit claims that Textron’s actions appear to be an attempt to destroy RRA’s reputation and business, something that absolutely needs to be considered by a board reviewing a contract extension with this business. And then there are tiny holes. Little cracks in the timeline of the narrative that don’t seem to add up.

Textron bought Pipistrel in spring 2022. The Chronicle story hailing the economic impact that Right Rudder’s deal with Mesa Airlines would have was published in late September 2022, and while Mesa would not present Right Rudder with the notice of cancelation until March 2023, it was clear in August that the deal was on the rocks as Textron was negotiating price escalations for aircraft delivered in subsequent years of a multi-year deal. Right Rudder had also seen Textron selling Pipistrel aircraft at a July 2022 airshow despite Right Rudder’s contract to be the exclusive distributor of their product and the correspondence that followed showed the writing on the wall. So why would a local company be taking a victory lap in the paper for a deal that a month earlier had encountered some significant hurdles to completing?

And in addition to a lawsuit in which David is fighting Goliath, David is also the defendant in at least one regarding late payments on leases and commissions to planes they were leasing as well as deposits that were never returned to people who had purchased, but never received, planes. The claims over the county contracts from 50 years, to 20 years, always seemed like an argument based more in desperation than in understanding and now some numbers involving exactly how much has been invested in certifications like SEVIS, S-e-v-i-s aren’t adding up.

Commissioner Rebecca Bays said last meeting that what Right Rudder is asking to be is a business partner of the county, so instead of showing the county results, why doesn’t Right Rudder show the county a business plan? And instead we have legal red flags both regarding business though also out of Right Rudder’s own control, an additional situation that could have opened up the county to legal action detailed last Friday, and at best a misunderstanding of, at worst an outright manipulation of a contract with the public.

I’ll wrap it up today with this. I would love to believe the better story. The brilliant genius who is putting this county on the national map through his vision and hard work, but being brought down by the suits and slicks of the world. But in government and media, we can’t let ourselves get caught up in the narratives we want to believe. It’s a cruel world.

Here’s my version of the story. Right Rudder did what small businesses can and took a huge risk investing heavily in a partnership that - probably unfairly - didn’t pan out when somebody with greater resources saw the potential and stole that opportunity from them. It’s wildly unfair and it’s also how the world works, that’s why they call it risk. Right Rudder then acted in bad faith negotiations with the county to cast a wide safety net, but the commission - while I defended them in doing so - probably reacted too harshly in changing the terms of the contract from a pre-agreed upon five year extension down to a two year extension when Right Rudder tried to extend it to 50.

Neither side was right to do what they did. This business has a long way to go in repairing relationships with staff and the board. This board has a long way to go in rebuilding trust with the business community.

But now we have a fair continuation and I have no doubt that this extraordinary team dealt the worst of hands will find a way to work themselves back on top of the aviation world. This may not be the better story, but it is at least one with some semblance of the truth.


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