On Thursday night, the Paulding County Republican Party hosted a debate for the Post 4 Commissioner candidates in the auditorium of the Paulding campus of Chattahoochee Tech. In attendance were candidates Jim Ashworth, Dan Boles, and the current Post 4 Commissioner Tony Crowe. The only Post 4 candidate not in attendance was Brian Stover. Earlier in the week, Stover, along with four other Paulding candidates, issued a controversial statement citing a lack of timely coordination as the reason for not attending the debate. Stover and the four other candidates went on in the statement to say that they decided to pursue other avenues to reach voters.
The moderator duties for the Post 4 Commissioner debate were up to Louie Hunter, and the panelists asking the questions were Scott Johnson of Cobb County, Fred Kittle of Bartow County, and Leslie McPherson of Carroll County.
The debate lasted just under an hour, and the candidates discussed various topics including their ideas for bringing more businesses to Paulding County, the moratorium on building permits in Paulding, and the passage of HB930 in the Georgia State house. At the beginning of the debate, many of the constituents in attendance showed their support on one of the answers from Dan Boles, but it didn’t take long for moderator Louie Hunter to put an end to the audible support. Hunter asked the audience to refrain from clapping, stating that it would slow the debate down. The audience complied with Hunter’s request until the end of the debate when one of the most controversial topics for Paulding County residents was addressed. The very last question sent sparks flying in the auditorium. What was the question that caused the sparks? Given the history of Paulding County over the last few years, you probably already know the answer. The Paulding County airport.
Panelist Scott Johnson had the daunting task of asking the candidates this question. Johnson asked, “Should Paulding County, your airport, be open to commercial passenger service or not?”
First up to tackle the airport issue was current Commissioner Tony Crowe. Crowe opened his statement with a simple, “No. There’s no secret to where I stand on this issue, and there’s no secret why I stand where I stand.” Crowe continued to explain his position by indicating that he knew the history of the airport, and cited the two previous “no” votes from the Paulding County citizens in 1975 and 1999. He finished his statement by saying, “I don’t want no mistakes about where I stand on commercialization. Until it’s brought out front, done properly, presented to the people, and they buy it, I will not support it.” After Crowe finished his statement, several audience members cheered. A couple yelled an enthusiastic, “Yeah!” letting everyone know their support for his stance on this issue.
Next up to address the airport dilemma was candidate Dan Boles. Boles opened his statement by saying, “There’s no secret to where I stand on this either. I am not opposed whatsoever to commercialization, but nothing is off the table either.” Boles continued by stating that he didn’t think things were done the way he would have liked and that the airport was the polarizing issue in Paulding County. After expanding on his position further, Boles finished with, “I’m willing to get Propeller to come to the table and compromise with us. I think we need to come to the table and compromise some as well. I’m not opposed to commercialization.” During and after Boles’ statement, audience member’s reactions oscillated between cheering, heckling, and booing.
After Boles and Crowe’s statements, it was obvious that there was a split in the crowd; those who supported the development and commercialization of the airport and those who didn’t.
The third candidate, Jim Ashworth, faced a less than desirable task given the audience’s reaction to the answers given by Boles and Crowe but Ashworth kept his statement brief by stating, “I’m strictly against commercial aviation coming to Paulding.” Ashworth continued on and noted that business pods were originally designed to be around the airport to help bring in business into Paulding. He closed by stating, “I’m completely against the commercialization there.” After concluding his answer, the audience was in an uproar again, showing their support for Ashworth’s position on the issue.
The moderator then handed the microphone to Commissioner Crowe to close out the segment on the airport. In his closing statement, Crowe discussed the mitigation between all of the parties involved. Candidate Ashworth also had a chance to speak about the fees currently being paid and the bond payments that the county is currently stuck with.
Given the audience’s reaction to the Post 4 candidate’s answers regarding the very controversial airport issue, it is obvious that Paulding County remains divided and that we aren’t any closer to finding a resolution now than we were in the previous years. It will obviously take some time before Paulding County residents can put this issue to rest and move onto other issues the county is facing.