BoC Spar over Conflict Counsel, but Mediation Effort May End Litigation
News of some resolution of lawsuits over Paulding’s Silver Comet Field came last week following Commission Chairman Dave Carmichael’s comments regarding the cost of conflict council to the county. Carmichael made his comments on continued cost of conflict counsel as an agenda item during last week’s regular work session of the BoC. Carmichael charged he has been out of the loop with regard to conflict council tied to litigation over Paulding’s airport and that he felt the cost to retain an attorney for what is essentially one county entity suing another is unacceptable to continue.
Carmichael said as the new budget is being prepared there are better things that money could go toward, and added that there was nothing to be gained from the effort, regardless of its outcome, and questioned what the final price tag would be for the county. Carmichael and Post 2 Commissioner Pownall traded comments during the work session. Silver Comet Field is in Pownall’s district and he acknowledged having ‘taken the lead’ with regard to issues connected to it that began with opposition to a 2013 bid to establish limited commercial service at the airport.
Carmichael said that he tracked 28 communications during December between Attorney Chuck Conerly and Commissioner Pownall, but that when he asked Conerly for an update “I was told, ‘there’s just not much going on.’”
Per Carmichael, a previous meeting between Pownall, himself and a regional FAA official already established there would be no Part 139 Permit forthcoming and thus, no commercial airport coming to SCF. Carmichael said that he was opposed to spending taxpayer’s money to pay for conflict counsel retained for the purpose of having one county entity sue another, as is the case between the board and the Paulding County Airport Authority.
But, a planned meeting of attorneys involved in a series of lawsuits tentatively set for later this month could “in theory” lead to an end of all legal actions surrounding proposed commercialization of Paulding’s airport, according to Conerly.
Conerly told the Paulding commissioners last week that “some of the attorneys of the other lawsuits” have contacted him about meeting possibly March 14 and 16 to discuss issues surrounding county commission lawsuits related to the proposed airport commercialization.
According to Conerly, a U.S. Department of Justice attorney is leading efforts to bring an end to the legal actions filed by Paulding County and the governmental and private groups who have filed and appealed numerous lawsuits since 2013, he said. “Having mediation would not only resolve those cases but would, in theory at least, resolve all of the pending lawsuits surrounding the airport,” Conerly said.
Justice Department attorneys are involved because they represent the Federal Aviation Administration, which is named in some of the other lawsuits, he said.
The legal morass surrounding Paulding’s airport has become increasingly criticized for its impact to severely hinder efforts to recruit industry needed to balance the tax base in Paulding’s heavily residential ‘bedroom community.’ By 2016 the conflict split the county politically and probably led to the election of commissioners opposed to commercialization — giving opponents a majority on the five-member county commission. Pownall, along with Commissioners Crowe, Collett and Davis have opposed the commercialization prospect and supported the effort to suppress it. Apart from Davis, all three commissioners will seek re-election in the May Primary Election.