Cherokee official resigns over perceived threat

One unexpected item to come out of Cherokee County's vote for a one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax last week is the resignation of a member of the county's Airport Authority.

Authority member Quentin Thomas left his position after being questioned by Buzz Ahrens, the chairman of the County Board of Commissioners, about whether Thomas was leading opposition to the SPLOST. Money from the tax will go to build roads, libraries, expand the jail and other county projects.

Thomas told Ahrens he was not leading the organized opposition to the tax, but he took the call as an implied threat to his position and an attempt to influence him on a voting issue.

When contacted, Thomas said that he left because he had accomplished what he could on the authority, but he declined to talk about the phone call, saying the resignation letter spoke for itself.

In the letter, Thomas said, "I have no desire to remain in a volunteer position where the leadership of that organization feels that they can freely apply ‘their judgment' to any actions I choose to take which might appear ‘nonconforming'. "

He declined to delve into details of why he took Ahrens' call as an "implied" threat to his position. His letter also said he felt the call was an affront to his rights of free speech.

Ahrens confirmed he questioned Thomas about his leadership of the anti-SPLOST movement, but denied he threatened him in any way or pressured him.

He told Thomas he was not asking about Thomas' personal position, but that he would have a problem with Thomas serving on the authority while actively campaigning against the SPLOST, because part of the money collected is helping pay for airport improvements such as lengthening the runway to 5,000 feet.

When Thomas said he was not leading opposition, Ahrens said he was satisfied.

Ahrens said he could not threaten Thomas because he did not appoint him and could not dismiss him. Thomas' appointment was by a vote of the full board of commissioners.

The Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax vote passed in Cherokee County, guaranteeing another six years of a one-penny sales tax beginning in 2012.