ALBANY -- The commissioner tasked by the Albany City Commission to speak with the son of a civil rights leader about possibly renaming the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in his father's honor chastised the commission's representative on the Aviation Commission for pushing that body to reaffirm the current name of the airport and its terminal this week.
Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell dressed down Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta Tuesday for encouraging the Aviation Commission -- an appointed arm of the City Commission -- to get involved in the renaming issue when he said he had neither the authority nor the normal proclivity to address the issue.
"This is why we have a city commissioner on the Aviation Commission, to represent the interests of the board," Postell said. "They are trying to supersede our authority. ... They don't have authority over us.
"By doing this, they've made this whole thing sort of a circus by telling the City Commission what they want."
The issue is a longstanding request from the son of Johnnie Johnson -- a former public works employee for the city of Albany who, decades ago, challenged the city's unfair labor practices toward African-Americans by first leading a strike and then joining five others in a landmark civil rights lawsuit -- to have a prominent government building named in his honor.
Most recently, city staff identified three possible locations that could be named for Johnson: the downtown Law Enforcement Center, the airport and the Municipal Auditorium. When the LEC was taken off the table by the commission, the preference by the Johnson family became the airport.
Under city policy, the commissioner from the ward in which a building is to be named has to bring the issue before the commission. Since the airport is in Postell's ward, the City Commission asked him on Nov. 15 to speak with the Johnson family on the issue and come back before the board.
On Monday, before Postell had an opportunity to speak with the Johnsons, the Aviation Commission voted unanimously to reaffirm the name of the airport as the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport and the name of the terminal as the McAfee Terminal, in a move Marietta said at that meeting was meant to serve as a recommendation to the City Commission.
After being questioned by Postell on how the matter ended up on the Aviation Commission's agenda when it hasn't been thoroughly discussed by the City Commission, Marietta said board member Dr. Charles Gillespie placed it on the agenda but that he supported it once it was up for discussion.
"I didn't know it was going to be on the agenda before Dr. Gillespie put it on there, but I have to admit that I did vote in support of it because I viewed it as a non-binding recommendation to the commission that the name stay the same," Marietta said.
Postell cautioned Marietta on his actions, saying that the actions of the Aviation Commission have created more buzz behind an issue that some could view as racially divisive.
"That's a racial concept. It's a dangerous trap," Postell said. "(The City Commission is) trying to overcome racism and bridge this community together, and if we're not careful things like this can tear it apart."
Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike said he was concerned about the timing behind the Aviation Commission's pre-emptive move to reaffirm the present naming of the airport when discussion hadn't really started among city commissioners.
"No one from the Aviation Commission took any effort to get any information on the situation before this came up on their agenda," Pike said. "There needs to be some simple dialogue before these kinds of things happen."
Albany Mayor Willie Adams, who said at the Nov. 15 meeting that he didn't believe renaming the airport was "reasonable or doable," echoed Pike's statement Tuesday.
"I must admit that I was somewhat disappointed as well," Adams said. "I know many of the people on the Aviation Commission and if they had opinions, they should have contacted us. They've set the stage to put us in a situation for controversy."
While he had the floor, Adams suggested that maybe the Johnson family could push to have a courtroom in the federal courthouse that now bears famed civil rights attorney C.B. King's name named in Johnson's honor and reminded the board that if the commission is upset about the actions of the Aviation Commission, they can choose not to reappoint its members when the time comes.