Let's set the record straight. No matter what side of the Briscoe Field privatization fence you're on, you've got to have a feeling in the pit of your stomach that "somethin' just ain't right" about the decision making by commissioners Mike Beadreau, Shirley Lasseter and Lynette Howard last month.
A contentious, split, 3-2 vote was taken in May of 2011 to move ahead with the Request for Proposals for possible commercialization of Briscoe Field. Lasseter, Beaudreau, and Howard voted "yes" and Chairwoman Charlotte Nash and commissioner John Heard voted "no." However, no action was taken until August -- three months later -- after two studies recommended commercialization "not feasible" and "before issuing RFPs, the county must establish a goal with citizen input."
The three commissioners decided last month to direct "staff" to move ahead with the Request for Proposals. Problem? You betcha. They didn't have the guts to inform their CEO (Nash) or their cohort (Heard) of their decision until it was a done deal.
Were any laws violated? We may never know. Did these three commissioners use poor judgment in pushing RFPs through without full disclosure they were ready to do so to fellow board members and the taxpayers? Absolutely. Did they purposely deceive? Should not the chairwoman be the lead person in requesting "staff" to proceed with such an important issue? How did the trio notify "staff" to proceed? Email, written requests, phone call, personal meeting? Who is "staff"? Why the cloak of secrecy? As a citizen, I feel that my trust has been violated by these three commissioners.
Two studies have been completed: The Atlanta Metropolitan Aviation Capacity Study and the IMG Study paid for by you and me to the tune of $80,000. The AMACS analysis shows commercialization of Briscoe "not feasible at this time" due to problems with airspace, a $2.2 billion cost and concerns with land space acquisition surrounding Briscoe.
The IMG study suggests four options and five recommendations.
Options: continue the 2010 process of statements of qualifications; continue the 2010 process, but reopen the RFQs to new respondents; restart the process.
Recommendations: establish a clear goal for Briscoe with citizen input which lead to a higher likelihood of success; take time to understand the opportunity with studies (market, technical planning, environmental, financial feasibility, economic impact); market the opportunity with websites, information sessions; develop the RFP carefully -- the best approach depends on the county's goal (guess what? There is no clear, established goal); de-link the commercial service from the privatization debate.
The IMG study shows concerns over airspace, land space acquisition surrounding Briscoe, expansion of runways, substantial public funding and no guarantee of commercial airline interest in Briscoe. This study is clear. It is non-biased, yet the three commissioners still have questions for IMG. A public meeting is now scheduled with IMG on Tuesday in the BOC office at 11 a.m.
When the county contracted with the FAA to start this process, one of the stipulations was that should the airport fail, the county must continue to financially support Briscoe Field. Taxpayers cannot afford to have the board commit us to that kind of debt. Continue to email all of the commissioners: Charlotte.Nash@gwinnettcounty.com, John.Heard@gwinnettcounty.com, Shirley.Lasseter@gwinnettcounty.com, Lynette.Howard@gwinnettcounty.com, Mike.Beaudreau@gwinnettcounty.com and let them know you are paying attention.
If you're interested in the well-being of our beloved county, attend the IMG meeting on Tuesday and do not miss the Sept. 27th BOC meeting. Let's get their attention. I'll see you there.
Gaye McNeil is a retired educator and Lawrenceville resident. She and her husband have lived and worked in Gwinnett County for more than 30 years.