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SPIGOLON: Settle public disputes or we’ll all pay for hit to Newton’s image
Paulding airport
Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport is located in Dallas, Georgia, and was at the center of controversy years ago. - photo by Special Photo

This is an opinion.

It was October 2013 and the press release hit my email: a private company wanted to lease the entire, little-used airport in Paulding County and offer commercial passenger service as part of a public-private partnership to develop the facility with aerospace-related industries.

An Emory University graduate from New York led the company and his plan included small commuter and tourist airlines serving the airport, which would lead to his development of land around the airport for the industries to build and provide jobs. 

He had been turned down the year before for the same plan for Gwinnett County’s Briscoe Field airport after protests funded by an unknown source sprang up.

Commercial passenger service would have placed tiny Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport near Dallas, Georgia, in direct competition with giant Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport and its main tenant, Delta Airlines.

Seemingly, all at once, protests sprang up — in a similar way as the year before at Briscoe Field — and Paulding County became the top story in Metro Atlanta for its fight against commercialization of the airport.

And in the county election the following year, voters elected a new majority of anti-commercial airport county commissioners who very publicly locked horns with the county chairman who backed the company’s plan.

The constant conflict between the two sides during the next four years made great stories for TV news, which thrives on conflict. 

Both sides were convinced they were right and representing the will of the people.

But the area they were governing was a low-wealth, bedroom community with the burden for paying for schools and basic services falling on homeowners. 

It had tried for years to reverse self-serving leaders’ mistakes of past years which resulted in little industrial development in the county — and 80% of residents leaving the county to find good-paying jobs.

The county in 2013 was still recovering from the housing market crash which triggered the Great Recession. Property taxes were rising annually to pay for services and the county badly needed economic development of any kind and weren’t getting it.

What was going unnoticed, or ignored in some cases, was the damage constant public bickering between county officials was doing to Paulding County’s image.

The county’s image before 2013 was an area seemingly ripe for business development. Companies were looking toward Paulding, which hired a well-known industrial recruiter to bring them in.

Then the county commissioners began their very public displays of disharmony, including public insults, charges of conspiracies by elected officials and more.

The conspiracy theorists said individuals outside the county were fanning the flames of public conflict for their personal benefit. Nothing was ever proven despite some officials’ claims.

Eight years later, the county still struggles to attract badly-needed industry that would broaden the tax base and help fund development of infrastructure needed to lure larger employers.

Its image was one of almost constant conflict in government — which is not what employers typically want when looking for new places to build.

They usually want an educated workforce, good availability of services like water, sewer, power and broadband; and a choice of building sites to accommodate their needs. 

They don’t want to feel like they are going into an area which does not have a fully functioning government and leaders who are mostly going in different directions.

Elected officials will publicly disagree on any government’s direction from time to time — that’s the nature of any governing body representing a widely diverse constituency.

But to prolong such conflict and increase it over time using social media only tells those outside your city or county you are not on the same page in your hopes for the future.

In my opinion, our elected leaders continuing to publicly spar for their own self-interests runs counter to the efforts of industrial and retail recruiters working to attract employers and industry here in Newton County.

It’s time to settle simmering disputes and work toward a brighter future for Newton County — or face the prospect of being passed by for new industries to further broaden and diversify our tax base. 

Tom Spigolon is news editor of The News. Reach him at