City OKs airport authority

COVINGTON -- The City Council unanimously approved a resolution asking the state legislature to create an airport authority to oversee Covington Municipal Airport.

The vote came following resident Chris Jueschke's request that the issue be tabled until more information is available and more resident input allowed.

Jueschke said the creation of an authority is "one of the most consequential things the City Council will ever do, and it merits robust public discussion and maybe even a referendum."

As to previous comments by city officials that the authority would be free from political pressure or interference, Jueschke said any entity making decisions involving hundreds of millions of dollars is political by nature. He said he is concerned the authority would be removed from public accountability.

"There may be good reasons to establish an airport authority, but so far I don't think the public has heard them," he said.

Jueschke said it appeared the council was making a rushed decision in order to get the legislation approved by the General Assembly.

"There's no harm in taking the time to discuss it and do it right," he said.

However, Mayor Kim Carter said that the formation of the authority is not being rushed, but has been in the works for a long time. She also pointed out that the authority will be subject to open meetings and records laws.

One of the most compelling reasons for formation of the authority is that it can issue bonds, she said.

"We want to have the ability to have tools in the toolbox to allow the airport to grow," she said.

The authority will consist of seven members who must be residents of Newton County, at least two with expertise in aviation. The members are appointed by the City Council, with four appointed to four-year terms and three to three-year terms.

To be eligible to serve on the authority, a person must be at least 21 years old, have been a resident of Newton County for at least one year and not have been convicted of a felony.

Members will receive compensation set by the authority and paid by authority funds, according to the proposed act creating the authority. The authority will make its own rules and regulations. The authority will also annually elect its own chair, vice chair, secretary and treasurer. It will hold public hearings on its own initiative or at the request of residents affected by the actions of the airport.

The authority's main purpose is to acquire, construct, equip, maintain, operate and improve the airport and related facilities. The authority will also be able to accept loans and grants, borrow money and issue tax-exempt negotiable revenue bonds. The revenue bonds would not constitute a debt of the city or county or require a pledge of faith on the credit of either.

In December, state Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, said he doesn't foresee any problems with the General Assembly approving the local legislation.

"I can't imagine why we wouldn't be happy to do that. The airport out there is a diamond in the rough," he said.