Paulding County airport officials acknowledged procedural missteps in issuing bonds for a taxiway expansion that could help attract commercial airline flights, but argued in court Monday that the financing is proper and the expansion will benefit the county.
“An airport in Paulding County has been a controversial topic since the 70s,” airport authority attorney Tom Cable said. Whether it’s residents who have long opposed the airport, newcomers seeking respite from the big city or the chief executive of a major airline, “the airport certainly has its detractors,” Cable said.
The hearing in Paulding Superior Court pitted Paulding county residents who oppose commercialization of their airport against officials behind the expansion.
The residents want to block the taxiway bond issue, which their attorney argued is unconstitutional. Charles McKnight, who represents residents Susan Wilkins and Anthony Avery, raised concerns about secrecy, use of county funds to back the airport bonds and the airport’s deal with a private firm that will benefit from the project.
Judge Tonny Beavers said he expects to rule later this week.
“There’s been overarching intent by the airport authority to keep the taxpayers in the dark,” McKnight said, adding that the $3.4 million in airport authority bonds are improper and unconstitutional.
He pointed to an error in a notice of the bond approval hearing, which misstated the entity issuing the bonds. He also pointed to a violation of the state Open Meetings Act from a session at which the airport authority voted on the bonds. Meeting minutes did not state the reason for going into a closed executive session.
“This statute is meant to prevent closed-door politics,” McKnight said.
But county and airport officials argued that they followed proper procedures, saying the bond approval hearing notice was sufficient and simply had a typo. They also said the airport authority bond vote occurred before the closed session.
McKnight raised other arguments against the bonds. He said the taxiway expansion will unconstitutionally benefit a private entity — Silver Comet Terminal Partners, the company that will lease airport terminal space and land and hopes to draw commercial service. And, he argued an agreement in which the county pledged to back the project was improper.
County and airport officials argued that the entire county will benefit — not just Silver Comet — from the taxiway expansion, and contended that the agreement with the county was proper.
If the bonds are not approved, airport director Blake Swafford says the airport can seek alternative sources of funding, and has already secured a $1 million loan from the Industrial Building Authority.