Judge Rules DeKalb County Must Open Airport Records

AUGUST 10, 2005

A judge has ruled that DeKalb County violated the Georgia Open Records Act by withholding information about the aircraft landing at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, delivering a stunning victory to activists who have fought the airfield's expansion for two decades.

In spite of procedural maneuvers it used to drag out litigation for more than a year, DeKalb County was ordered to release volumes of records of operations at second busiest airfield in Georgia.

Supporters of the lawsuit believe the documents will prove what they have long suspected: In the county's zeal to generate revenue from private aircraft, airport officials have welcomed oversized planes, violated a federally mandated weight limit; evaded federal law requiring environmental studies of noise, air and ground pollution; and obstructed tax collections on aircraft.

"It shows the government has to be responsive to its citizens whether it wants to or not," plaintiff Charles "Mickey" Feltus said today. "What a shame that all the time and energy and contempt that's been involved in this thing [was] caused by people's arrogance; people who don't have respect for the public. ... I think we may have struck a nail in the coffin of preventing Hartsfield north from coming to the county."

In his order granting summary judgment to Feltus on Monday, DeKalb Superior Court Judge Robert J. Castellani rejected DeKalb County's principle defense that certain information, such as aircraft noise levels and identification numbers and flight tracks, cannot be released because of a confidentiality agreement between the county and the Federal Aviation Administration.

DeKalb's lawyers have argued that releasing the data would prompt the FAA to terminate the agreement. In letters to airport officials regarding Feltus' requests, the FAA has held to the memorandum's confidentiality provision. But FAA officials have not commented publicly on the case and did not return calls seeking comment today.

Castellani said the accord, known as a memorandum of agreement, "should not be used to subvert the letter and spirit of the Georgia ORA in contravention of this state's stated policy of openness in government and, further, that no specific federal or state law has been cited by the defendants in support of the non-disclosure directive. Therefore, the court finds the MOA does not operate to prohibit disclosure of the information sought by the plaintiff."

DeKalb's lawyers have said in court that the county will comply with whatever Castellani decided. Today, county officials said in a statement that they "appreciate the import of the ruling" but declined to comment further.

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution