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Airport Privatization Opponents Fail to Sway Woodall

Rep. Woodall said he believes private sector deserves a chance.

Members of Citizens for a Better Gwinnett and Gwinnett Citizens for a Responsible Government turned out in force for Rep. Rob Woodall’s (R-GA-07) appearance at Thursday night’s Founding Fathers Tea Party Patriots meeting.

The groups are looking to Woodall for support in their fight against the .

said the expense the county would incur should any private operator fail is an expense the taxpayers cannot afford and asked Woodall for his position on the privatization program.

“Like any pilot program … we don’t know if it is a good program or not. We don’t know what the success rate will be,” Woodall said. “My inclination on anything -- with the exception of the United States military -- is that the private sector deserves a chance.”

According to Woodall, the privatization program was started based on the theory that private companies can operate airports more efficiently than the government. So far, Woodall said, only one airport has been privatized and that operation was eventually returned to the local governing authority at “a huge cost.”

Woodall said since constituents began contacting him with concerns about the program, he has met with FAA representatives to learn more about how the program works. Woodall said it is his understanding the potential financial burden that could result from the failure of a private operator is a contractual, not statutory issue.

It is up to the community and local leaders to decide the wording of that contract and the protections therein, Woodall explained.

“Whatever folks write into the contract is what the law of the contract is,” he said.

Some in attendance questioned whether Gwinnett citizens really have any say in what goes into the contract or in the privatization process itself.

“The fact is that whatever the majority of people want will not necessarily be done because this decision is made by the five-member Board of Commissioners and we think three of them are already committed by some previous, under-the-table agreement. We really have our hands pretty much tied,” one man said.  “The large majority of homeowners are very much against it, but that won’t be given to a popular vote by these elected commissioners who already have a very definite opinion regardless of how we feel.”

For Citizens for a Better Gwinnett board member Jim Regan, the answer to the problem is simple (see video).

“Why won’t you sponsor a bill to defund this privatization program?” Regan asked Woodall.

“What it sounds like you’re saying is that you have a local issue here and it’s not going the way you want it to go … and so you want me to repeal the federal law for the nation that enables these things to go on so that we don’t get a bad result in Lawrenceville?” Woodall replied.

“That’s correct,” Regan said.

Woodall expressed his belief that the federal government should not become involved in matters that are better dealt with locally and emphasized the importance of reaching out to commissioners.

“My entire conservative philosophy is based on the principle that the people you can impact the most are your neighbors, the people you go to church with, the people you see at CVS,” he said. “If they are immune to public opinion, what hope does that give us for this country?”

Regan said the 15 years the pilot privatization program has been in place is a more than adequate period to determine the success or failure of the program and repeated his request that it be defunded.

“I’m almost speechless because I’m not usually in the position in a conservative crowd of having to defend moving decisions to the local government,” Woodall said. “It’s a strange place for me to be.”

Woodall reiterated his belief that the private sector deserves a chance and said he was not ready to concede the privatization program should be defunded.

Regan said his group will continue their efforts to convince Woodall otherwise at Woodall’s Aug. 16 town hall meeting at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. The town hall meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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