Residents file suit over Paulding airport authority’s closed meetings

Six residents have filed suit alleging the Paulding County Airport Authority violated the state open meetings act by improperly holding closed sessions and failing to give adequate notice to the public of a two-day retreat where it discussed plans to commercialize the airport.

The suit, filed in Superior Court of Paulding County, alleges the authority held the retreat outside county lines without sufficient notice and, as previously reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, violated the law by failing to provide minutes of the retreat until six months later.

“Because the Airport Authority failed to provide agendas in advance of the retreat and only notified the local weekly newspaper of the retreat when it was too late to publish notice, no members of the public were present at any time for the two-day meeting,” the complaint reads. “The law demands open government.”

The suit also alleges that during the nearly year-long period that the authority quietly developed a plan to commercialize the airport, the authority at four separate meetings went into closed session without properly giving reasons for closing the meetings.

Paulding airport director Blake Swafford said that after learning last year “that we weren’t exactly documenting our closed sessions exactly the best way,” the airport authority has “already made quite a few changes.”

“If there’s other changes that we need to make to be clear or more clear, then we’ll look at that,” Swafford said. “But I don’t know right now of anything else that we could do or should do.”

The residents filed suit against the airport authority and each of the authority’s board members: Swafford, authority Chairman Calvin Thompson, Paulding County Chairman David Austin, Hiram Mayor Doris Devey, Dallas Mayor Boyd Austin Jr., Paulding Chamber President Carolyn Wright and authority members Alan Shipp, James Underwood, Kerry Tidmore and Ellis Astin.

The plaintiffs — residents Anthony Avery, Bob Board, Mary Board, Janice Louie, Jordan Louie and Sue Wilkins — who are represented by Atlanta attorney Charles McKnight, are asking for civil penalties of $1,000 for each defendant and for the court to bar the airport authority from future violations of the open meetings act.

“We’re tired of the closed-door government that we have in Paulding County,” Avery said. “It’s wrong.”

The lawsuit, filed this week, is the fourth legal challenge in six months made by Paulding residents opposing commercialization of the airport. The airport authority announced plans last fall to attract airline service, part of a larger strategy to attract businesses and create jobs.

A previous legal challenge resulted in a settlement calling for an environmental assessment before commercialization of the airport proceeds. That is expected to delay the plans for months. A separate legal challenge over Paulding airport bonds is on appeal. A third lawsuit is still in the discovery phase.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.