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Board can unite despite airport differences, future commissioners say
by Tom Spigolon
May 28, 2014 03:49 PM | 3312 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Those likely to be serving on the county commission after Jan. 1 say disagreement on one issue should not divide the board as it deals with the overall business of operating Paulding government.

Chairman David Austin, an outspoken supporter of commercialization of Paulding’s airport, said he should “easily” be able to work with incoming commissioners after they take office despite a majority likely opposing a company’s plans for passenger flights at the facility.

“I just do my job every day, no matter who the board is,” Austin said.

However, one of last week’s winners, commission Post 4 Republican nominee Tony Crowe, also lost a sometimes-bitter 2012 race for chairman to Austin in which charges flew on both sides. Austin said he felt the two should put any lingering disagreements in that race in the past.

“I think it’s in our best interest to come together to work for the best interest of Paulding County,” Austin said.

Post 3 Republican nominee Vernon Collett, who opposes commercialization, said he foresaw no problem working with Austin after Collett takes office Jan. 1 despite their differences on the airport’s future.

“David [Austin] and I will probably agree on 90 percent of everything we do,” he said. “There may be some issues on which we don’t agree, and the airport may be one of them, but, for the most part, county business is county business and we’ll likely be on the same page.”

Post 2 Commissioner Todd Pownall, who was unopposed for the Republican nomination for his seat and opposes commercialization, said he hoped commissioners would set aside past political differences and work together on issues.

“Hopefully, everyone will get in office and do a good job and be their own person and come to the table and work together to do the right thing for the community of Paulding County citizens,” he said.

“Remember this: anybody and everybody will follow a good leader,” Pownall said. “Even people who want to do wrong will follow a good leader.”

Pownall has been publicly opposed to commercialization of the airport since he was surprised by Silver Comet Partners’ October announcement it was seeking an airline to offer passenger flights as part of an overall plan to recruit aerospace-related industries to the airport area.

The announcement came almost a year after the company signed an agreement with the Paulding Airport Authority which opponents charged was done quietly to avoid the public outcry the same company encountered when it sought to purchase Gwinnett County’s Briscoe Field airport and add commercial flights in early 2012.

Post 1 Commissioner Dave Carmichael, who has said he favored commercialization, said he has “seen what airports can do” to develop the economic vitality of other areas of Georgia, including Columbus, Augusta and Valdosta.

“I just hope we don’t discourage that,” he said.

“My goals, hopefully, are what other commissioners’ goals are: to strategically provide opportunities for Paulding countians. I have nine grandchildren. I would like for them to not be one of the 75 percent that, like I did, drove out of the county to work [but to] work right here.”

Carmichael said he “looked forward to” working with incoming commissioners after Jan. 1. He said commissioners “have to work together to get anything done.”

“There’s not agreement on everything, but … you strive toward unity and work to be unified in whatever your goals for the county are,” he said.

“I’m the eternal optimist,” Carmichael said. “I served 30 years to defend the country so that we can speak and vote. I am also a Christian, so I think it’s ultimately in God’s hands. So, I’m just positive about the future.”

Austin said the “hardest thing for me to swallow” about last week’s election results was the low voter turnout. Only one in 10 registered voters cast ballots in last week’s elections that chose a majority of members of the county commission.

As a result, the average voter sees a change in overall philosophy on an issue as what the majority wants, even though only 10 percent of voters made the choice for the entire county, he said.

“That’s the disheartening thing, apathy and voter turnout,” Austin said.

Pownall will face a challenge from Democrat Patti Smith and independent candidate Mike Pope, a former county commissioner, in the November general election. He said he was not surprised by last week’s vote outcomes after seeing the results of polling his campaign did and comments he heard countywide..

He said the candidates and their stands on airport commercialization gave voters a clear choice.

“I think the citizens spoke,” he said. “Those who are against the commercialization of this airport and the way it was done, they won.”

Collett said he would like to give voters a chance to choose the airport’s future. However, a series of legal challenges must run their course, and a Federal Aviation Administration environmental study be completed, before any passenger flights can take off from Paulding County.

He also said he needed to study contracts signed with Silver Comet Partners before knowing how to proceed after he takes office in January.

“I’m an outsider. I don’t have all the information,” he said. “It’s going to be good to get in here to learn everything, to find out what can be done and what can’t be done.

“It’s a tough question to answer today,” he said. “It could be a done deal by the time I get into office [or] it may not be.”

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