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Council sees presentation on airport authority
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The Covington City Council got their first look Monday at how an airport authority would be organized.

Because the airport is considered a vital piece of Covington’s economic future, the council has been considering forming an authority of experts to direct the airport’s growth.

At the Nov. 2 council meeting, City Attorney Ed Crudup was directed to write up the necessary legislation required to form an authority — authorities can only be formed by a vote of Georgia General Assembly.

The Covington Municipal Airport Authority Act, which would be voted on by the general assembly, would create a seven-member authority. At least two of the members would be required to have aviation expertise.

All members would be appointed by the city council. Four of them would be appointed to four-year terms, and three of them would be appointed to three-year terms.

The act does not call for the members to receive any compensation, but the council discussed changing that. Mayor Kim Carter said paying the members, even a small sum, could attract more qualified candidates.

Once created, authorities become independent entities, which does raise concerns about oversight. On Monday, council members expressed concerns about what power the city council would have over the authority.

Crudup said the council’s oversight comes in assigning powers to the authority in the initial formation and by appointing members. However, once an authority is formed, the bylaws cannot be changed. Similarly, once a member is appointed, he cannot be removed from office until his term ends, unless he is convicted of a felony.

If formed, the authority would be allowed to purchase or lease land and other property, enter into contracts and borrow and loan money and would basically have all the same rights as a private corporation.

One of the most important powers is the ability to issue revenue bonds. By issuing bonds, the airport authority would be able to raise money to expand the airport or to loan to business around the airport. These interest accrued on these bonds is tax exempt, which makes them more attractive to investors, Crudup said.

The act states that the general purpose of the authority is to acquire, construct, equip, maintain, improve and operate an airport and the related facilities.

An important effect of creating the authority would be that the actual airport and land surrounding the airport would be deeded over to the authority. Originally, the council thought the city would maintain ownership of the airport, but Crudup said the authority would be more effective if it owned the airport and the surrounding land. He envisioned the airport authority operating similarly to the Industrial Development Authority, which owns land and conducts similar activities in order to help start new businesses and to help existing businesses expand.

The city views the land around the airport as one of the key areas of economic growth in the next few decades.

The council members agreed to send any concerns or questions to the mayor for the purpose of revising the authority act. Crudup said once the council is comfortable with the outline for an authority, it should vote on a resolution of support and send it to the general assembly as soon as possible.

In other city council news, 16-year Councilman John Howard served on his final council meeting before retiring in 2010.

Sen. John Douglas (R – Social Circle) and former Mayor Sam Ramsey attended the meeting just to thank Howard for his years of service.

"I wanted to come tonight especially to thank John Howard for great job he’s done on the council … I could always count on John looking at things in a very thorough way. I knew that once John said this was OK, it was probably OK," Ramsey said. "I know the city was in great financial shape it was in large part because of some of the things you did. I appreciate you … I hope we can always keep people of the caliber that you are in these positions."

Howard was first elected to the council by the East ward in 1994 and was known as a conservative steward of the city’s budget. Although Howard said he wasn’t one for speeches, he did have a few final words.

"Time has flown by, 16 years seems like yesterday. I’ve had some good times, mostly, had some bad times. But what I’ve always tried to do, if a motion was defeated that I wanted passed, that was water under the bridge. You never go back and worry what happened, that will eat you alive," he said.

"A man that I respect told me early on … "There is no right way to do a wrong thing," Howard said, referring to Howard's boss and friend Jerry Capes. "If each one of you would think about that whenever you make a decision, that is the way you should approach every decision … My term, when it comes up, I’ll be out of the country, but I’ll be thinking about you."

For Howard’s full speech listen to today’s Alcovy Report at