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Residents to have say on airport authority at hearing
Pettit says he expects a large crowd
Lee Arthurs, left, and Steve de Lyra were among a group of about 50 residents at a breakfast Saturday to question state Rep. Amos Amerson in his role in creating an airport authority. - photo by Michele Hester

One might say Pepper Pettit is unhappy with the city of Dawsonville's plan to form an airport authority.

"If you had gathered together everybody in the city and said we're going to do this the worst possible way, you couldn't have done a better job," Pettit said.

Tonight, Pettit and other county residents will get a chance to voice their opinions on the city's proposed airport authority.

City officials have said they hope during the meeting to clarify their reasons for attempting to create the entity and "educate the public" about their plans.

Those plans could include acquiring and operating the Elliott family's airstrip in northern Dawson County, said City Attorney Dana Miles.

Miles noted that, while "no public hearing is required, the city is voluntarily holding one (tonight) 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."

The public hearing comes on the heels of a March 14 statement from House Speaker David Ralston that chided the city.

In a later interview, Ralston cautioned that an authority is powerful.

"I think that before you create an entity, it's incumbent on the city to lay out what their plans are and address the concerns of its residents," he said.

Miles said there are three steps required to create an airport authority, two of which the city has fulfilled.

"The authority requires a vote of the City Council (held Feb. 16), notice of intent to introduce local legislation, which was subsequently published (Feb. 23 in the Dawson Community News) and passage of the local legislation," he said.

On March 8, House Bill 453 passed the House of Representatives in a 146-1 vote. It awaits Senate approval.

State Sen. Steve Gooch, whose district includes Dawson County, said the legislation should be put on hold.

"We need to take a timeout and give everybody a chance to catch their breath," Gooch said.

Dawson County resident Ellen Harrison agreed.

"I don't recall hearing or reading anything about the first governmental meetings or discussions about the Elliotts' airstrip becoming a public airfield, nor do I recall hearing or reading anything about the legislation to implement the authority until after the fact," Harrison said.

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. that day in city hall.

The legal notice that ran in the newspaper stated the city council planned to meet in order to "convene a called meeting with an executive session." The purpose of the meeting, it stated, was "real estate acquisition."

According to state law, an 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.

"Both of the agenda items had to do with real estate acquisition," Miles said. "One related to acquiring a downtown parking area and one related to acquiring an existing airport.

"As to the latter, the best means for the city to use to accomplish that purpose would be to create an airport authority."

Other than city officials, a reporter from the Dawson Community News was the only person at the Feb. 16 meeting.

The notice of intent to introduce local legislation was published in the paper on Feb. 23.

Pettit spoke at a Saturday breakfast gathering organized by Rep. Amos Amerson, who introduced the legislation that would allow the city to create an airport authority.

Amerson fielded questions from local residents angered by his involvement in the matter, saying he would introduce the legislation unless he "got lots of heartburn" from voters.

"The hearing is your opportunity to speak. I hope you use your voices," he told the crowd of some several dozen.

Pettit said he expects a large crowd at the public hearing.

Times regional writer Michele Hester contributed to this report