Airport Relocation Appeal

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The first district court of appeals is now considering a case that could have an impact on the local airport relocation project. The Panhandle Citizen's Coalition is appealing a local judge's ruling that deals with who should sit on the Airport Authority Board.

The Panhandle Citizen's Coalition appealed Judge Glenn Hess' ruling dismissing any thought that the Airport Board members appointed by Panama City commissioners should be bound by a public vote on the airport relocation issue.

The coalition's attorney, Alvin Peters, handled Wednesday's court argument.

"I don't think that this is really a micro-management of local politics. I think it's a statement by the people that this huge, major issue is something that the citizens should have the right to vote on."

Panama City officials see things differently. City attorney Rowlett Bryant told the appellate judges the airport authority is not just independent from the public's direct influence, but that's it's also independent of the city's influence. They're trying to get the city to tell the Panama City Airport Authority what to do. The Legislature never gave the city that power."

Both attorneys faced hard questions during their 15-minute arguments.

Judge Charles Kahn of the First District Court of Appeals said, "If you're right on your argument that we can go this far, wouldn't that, without any question at all, conflict with the special act because it would completely divest these members of their right to vote?”

Judge James Wolf said, "If you think the straw ballot is useless, aren't all straw ballots useless? So should we always, never allow straw ballots to go on the ballot."

Both sides want the judges to rule in their favor, but only the Panhandle Citizen's Coalition needs the decision before the November elections.

"If it is in our favor, and we hope it is, that it will be at a time so the citizens will have a chance to vote on this matter at the November elections this year."

The first district court of appeals will likely take about a month to reach its decision.