Residents later requested a public hearing in addition to the regular meeting on their concerns about possible commercial airline service at Silver Comet Field near Dallas.
Authority attorney Tom Cable read from a statement to open the meeting that “for years this authority received no requests by the public to speak at its meetings” but had received a number of requests recently.
The authority does not have a written policy on public participation and is not legally required to have one, he said.
“However, the authority has asked me to draft a proposed policy that permits limited public participation during its meetings,” Cable said. “The authority intends to adopt this policy at its February meeting.”
He said Chairman Calvin Thompson had previously stated that requests to speak during a meeting must be approved by the chairman and a majority of members. Requests must be made at least seven days before the meeting to be included on the agenda, Cable said.
Those opposing commercial service helped fill the airport terminal building meeting room to capacity. Many in the audience wore blue T-shirts with the words, “No airport expansion” on the front and the website name, protectpaulding.com, printed on the back.
Kenneth Coggins – who said he had opposed construction at the airport since 2004 – stood as authority members moved to adjourn and asked them to stay and listen to residents. He was told they could not do so without the formal policy.
Airport director Blake Swafford met with about 30 residents following the meeting and told them he would take their request for a hearing that would be in addition to the monthly meeting to authority members.
Swafford said he could not guarantee members could attend because they volunteer their time to serve on the authority and hold full-time jobs. Post 2 County Commissioner Todd Pownall said members who do not have time for such meetings should not be serving.
“If these people don’t have enough time, they need to … get off the board and let someone else do it,” Pownall told Swafford.
Pownall also referred to airport authority members not publicly speaking about the lease with Silver Comet Partners between the time contact was made with the company and the October disclosure the company was considering seeking passenger service for up to two flights a day.
“Y’all spent 15 months — 15 months — hiding this from the public,” Pownall said. “[Authority members] deserve to be heard from the public.”
Carole Huber, who lives near the airport, told Swafford the authority’s action on the lease moved the opposition to organize.
“You’ve opened a hornet’s nest,” she said.
However, Swafford told the group he only received requests to speak to the authority the night before last week’s meeting and he needed at least seven days’ notice.
Paulding resident Mary Board told a reporter the authority’s refusal was “a cop-out.”
“I wish they would listen to the public,” said Board, who is part of a group suing the Industrial Building Authority to stop it from making future loans to the airport authority for such projects as its ongoing taxiway widening project.
Board, who lives near the facility off Rockmart Highway, said she was happy residents had banded together to oppose further development at the seven-year-old facility.
Patti Smith, who lives on Hulseytown Road near the airport, was among the more vocal members of the crowd and held a sign questioning if jet fuel dumped from passing jets would seap into groundwater — a claim denied by airport officials.
Smith said she had been considering selling her home, which relies on wells for water, before the October announcement decreased its value.
Airport supporter Larry Reinhart said he believed those opposing expansion are in the minority. Fears of Paulding’s airport handling the amount of commercial traffic of a typical metro airport are unfounded because of its design, he said.
“It is not conducive to being [the size of] Hartsfield-Jackson,” he said.
He said studies have shown three out of four Paulding residents travel outside the county to work. He supported the plans, which include development for aerospace-related companies, to help increase employment opportunities available in Paulding County, he said.