Saturday, April 16, 2016

County commission hires outside firm for Paulding airport lawsuit

Paulding commissioners will use a Carrollton attorney to defend the county government in a federal lawsuit by a company asking a judge to decide if the airport operating board had the legal authority to sign a contract.

The company, Propeller Airports LLC, signed a contract with the Paulding County Airport Authority in 2012 to bring commercial airline service to Paulding’s Silver Comet Field airport. It is asking a federal judge to rule if the county board of commissioners should have approved the authority’s contract with the company and request for federal approval of commercialization.

County commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to hire the law firm Smith Conerly LLC of Carrollton in place of Dallas law firm Talley, Richardson and Cable, which represents county governing bodies and the school board. County Attorney Lani Skipper is part of the Talley firm which also represents the airport authority – creating a conflict forbidden by rules governing attorneys in Georgia, she said.

Commissioner Todd Pownall asked Chairman David Austin, who is an airport authority member, to vote to support the law firm’s hiring.

“I feel like as the chairman of the board of commissioners … your first responsibility is to Paulding County and the citizens of Paulding County. Therefore, you would want to have this representation for Paulding County,” Pownall told Austin.

However, Austin continued his opposition to airport commercialization opponents, including Pownall, and was the lone vote against hiring the Carrollton firm.

Propeller Airports LLC, through affiliated company Silver Comet Terminal Partners, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Rome March 31.

The suit seeks a ruling if the airport authority was legally empowered to sign a contract with Propeller to recruit an airline and ask the Federal Aviation Administration to authorize the commercial service under Part 139 of FAA’s rules.

Propeller Airports CEO Brett Smith said on March 31 the lawsuit “clearly” shows the airport authority “was well within its authority” to enter into the agreements.

“The agreements were either legally authorized or they weren’t, but the county can’t have it both ways,” Smith said.

The suit states “the county” approached Propeller Airport officials in 2012 about developing the airport for commercial service. Propeller and the airport authority signed a series of agreements to recruit commercial service to the west Paulding airport, including a 20-year lease of the terminal.

It “seeks to affirm the legality and declare the validity of all of these agreements, and to force the Paulding County Board of Commissioners to take a consistent position regarding the airport authority’s legal authority,” the company said in a news release.

“Silver Comet believed and relied upon the Airport Authority’s representation that they had the ability to submit the Part 139 application and to enter into the lease and airport use agreement,” the release stated.

“In fact, in the intergovernmental contract where the county authorized the airport authority to act on these matters it clearly indicated that the purpose of these agreements was to bring commercial air service to Paulding County.”

Smith said the company is ready to resume making twice-yearly payments on a bond issue to make improvements to the runway and taxiway for commercial flights “but we aren’t doing that until we have clarity as to whether or not our agreements with the county are valid.”

“We need clarification from the courts on these matters before we spend millions of more dollars. In the meantime, the county commission is costing taxpayers money,” he said.

Swafford, now employed by the airport authority, was a county department head in 2013. Pownall has said Swafford “served at the pleasure of the board of commissioners” because he was a county government department head and the board did not vote to give him authority to apply for the commercial designation.

Original article can be found here: http://www.mdjonline.com

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