The city of Dawsonville has decided to shelve its plans to create an airport authority.
“In talking with people ... I’ve come to the conclusion to just let it lay,” Mayor Joe Lane Cox said Tuesday. “We’ll take some time out, and we’ll leave it alone for a while.”
Cox said the decision was reached through informal talks with fellow councilmen after a public hearing on the matter drew at least 250 residents Thursday night.
Many of those who came were concerned with the city’s proposal to acquire and operate the Elliott Family’s airstrip in northern Dawson County. Those who opposed the idea sported red shirts.
Prior to public input, City Attorney Dana Miles addressed the group as the council’s spokesman.
Miles said the city had pursued the matter “because the Elliott Family had recently made known their desire to sell their existing airport facility.”
“The airport could be sold to a private individual or a company from out of state or even out of the country, and there would be no local control,” he said. “The only way to maintain local control was via an airport authority.”
Dawson County resident Gary Diamond felt otherwise.
“The establishment of an airport authority is the point of no return,” Diamond said. “The state legislature needs to kill this bill.”
State Sen. Steve Gooch, whose district includes Dawson County, spoke to the gathering after residents had their say.
“We feel like we need to get more info from the city and from you guys,” said Gooch, who was accompanied by state Rep. Rick Jasperse, whose district includes neighboring Pickens County.
When both men approached the podium, they turned around to face the audience and spoke for about 15 minutes with their backs to the city council.
“We’ve got three days left in the legislative session,” Gooch said. “It’s almost impossible for this bill to go anywhere this year.”
In light of that fact, Cox said Tuesday that there are “no deadlines on doing this.”
“To me, it’s dead. Let’s just leave it alone for now,” he said.
The mayor added that he did not appreciate the way Gooch handled the situation.
“He just walked in, took over the meeting and turned his back on us, like he was thumbing his nose at us,” Cox said.
Gooch said Tuesday he realized the mayor was upset after the meeting.
“He pretty much told me what he thought of me,” Gooch said. “He wasn’t bashful about it.
“We didn’t come there to try and ambush them, but quite frankly not one question that was asked that night was answered. The city didn’t answer any of the citizens’ concerns.”
Gooch said until the process is “done properly, the legislators for this area don’t want to move forward with this legislation.”
Cox said the city may consider a different process with the airport authority in the future.
“When we all get cooled down and have time to look at things in a little different way, if we need to regroup and come back, then we will,” Cox said.
He said that could involve appointing a committee of five people to discuss the matter “and get more input.”
Thursday night, the city council heard from residents on both sides of the issue.
Dawsonville resident Norm Donald said he felt it was “irresponsible for the city to try and take charge of something as big and all-encompassing as an airport.”
Former state Sen. Chip Pearson disagreed.
“When this property changes hands ... not if ... but when ... who will decide what happens? [The airport authority’s establishment] is simply the first step to starting discussion on the outcome of the future of Dawson County,” Pearson said.
The council chambers could hold only about 100 of those who came to the meeting. About 60 others listened to an audio feed in a spillover room next door.
Turned away due to the building’s capacity, another group of dozens waited outside city hall.
The public hearing was scheduled, Miles said, “in order to get the facts out, clear up any misunderstandings and give the public another opportunity to voice their support, opposition or concerns to the city.”
Miles said the process for creating the authority included a public meeting, held Feb. 16, and subsequent notification, on Feb. 23, in the Dawson Community News.
The airport authority bill passed through the House with a 146 to 1 vote.
It was put on hold, however, following a March 14 statement released by legislators, including House Speaker David Ralston, to stall Senate approval.
Ralston stated that he and fellow lawmakers had “reach[ed] a joint decision to halt legislation to create the Dawsonville Airport Authority (HB 453) for at least the rest of the year.
“All of the citizens of Dawson County deserve openness and transparency in government at each level,” Ralston continued. “Unfortunately, that was not the case with this request for local legislation.”
A “public notice of called meeting” was published in the Feb. 16 edition of the Dawson Community News.
The meeting was held at 5 p.m. Feb. 16 in city hall.
The legal notice that ran in the newspaper stated that the city council planned to meet in order to “convene a called meeting with an executive session.” Its purpose was “real estate acquisition.”
According to state law, executive, or closed, session may be used to discuss personnel matters, pending litigation and land acquisition.
The first 45 minutes of the Feb. 16 meeting were held in executive session, while the final 10 minutes were held in open session.
Miles said both items pertained to real estate acquisition. “One related to acquiring a downtown parking area and one related to acquiring an existing airport.”
Other than city officials, a reporter from Dawson Community News was the only person at the Feb. 16 meeting.
The notice of intent to introduce local legislation was published in the DCN on Feb. 23.