LAWRENCEVILLE — March ballots will not give voters an opportunity to sound off on a controversial airport privatization proposal.
The idea of a non-binding referendum as part of the March 15 special election for chairman was floated Thursday during a listening session between commissioners and the public.
Commissioners liked the idea, but when staffers researched it Friday, they said it can’t happen.
Elections Director Lynn Ledford cited a 1990 attorney general opinion that local governments cannot expend funds for public opinion or straw poll questions on ballots.
“Some county expense would be incurred in placing the question(s) on the ballot and the actual count of the vote,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Such an expenditure would not be authorized absent some statutory basis.”
Questions are regularly part of the primary process, but Ledford said political parties can place questions on their ballots since they are sharing in the expense of the election. The law also allows the Legislature to place referenda on ballots, but there is not enough time to get an airport question through the General Assembly, since absentee ballots are scheduled to go to the printer Monday.
Commissioner John Heard, who represents the area surrounding Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville, said he was “a little bit” disappointed that a referendum could not be on ballots, but he believes he already knows the voter sentiment.
In general, he said, the people who live nearby are adamantly against allowing commercial flights, a minority around the county who travels often are for the idea, while the majority “could care less.”
“I’d like to confirm my suspicions are true,” he said. Mostly, though, Heard wants to consider privatizing the airport without the option of allowing commercial flights.
“We need to get to the mind-set the opposition around Lawrenceville is purely (about) the commercial aviation,” he said. “We need to get the one piece out of the puzzle. Then the rest of it will move forward.”
Heard said he would push for closure on the issue after a new chairman is elected in March.