Council sticks to decision on Navy training

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, March 1, 2011


FRANKLIN—Pleas by the mayor and citizens to City Council members Monday night failed to persuade the majority to consider rescinding its Feb. 14 vote to discontinue discussions with the Navy about the use of Franklin Municipal Airport for pilot training.

For two hours, citizens in the standing-room-only crowd spoke in favor of and against further consideration of the Navy’s proposal. Thirteen speakers encouraged the council to rethink its decision two weeks ago. Twelve speakers commended the decision.

“The decision was made before the facts,” said resident Bill Billings. “It made council look sneaky. We need more facts, not emotion.”

“You shortchanged us,” resident Maurice Biggs, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, told council members. “You failed to follow your own agenda.”

Mayor Jim Councill, who supports continued pursuit of the Navy project, accused his colleagues of acting improperly by voting at the Feb. 14 meeting when a decision was not on the agenda. Prior to the council’s regular semimonthly meeting that night, the council and Isle of Wight County supervisors heard presentations from city and Navy officials and fielded citizens’ questions.

Franklin resident Roosevelt Johnson questioned how the council could make a decision without all the facts.

“It puzzles me,” Johnson said.

Among those who opposed reconsideration was Isle of Wight County resident Joe Joyner.

“I commend those who voted against it,” Joyner said. “It’s on your head, Mr. Mayor.”

After a motion was passed to limit discussion to 45 minutes, Councilman Barry Cheatham, one of five members who voted Feb. 14 to discontinue talks with the Navy, said he’d heard nothing to change his mind.

“The liability is too great to the city,” said Cheatham. “I don’t think a dollar sign is all we should be looking at. I’m not going to change my vote.”

This sentiment was echoed by most other council members, including Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson, who also voted with the majority on Feb. 14.

Councill pushed for further consideration.

“This is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the Navy,” he said. “I don’t have enough information to make a decision. It’s all I ask.”

No motion was made to rescind the Feb. 14 decision.

Cheatham, when asked after the meeting if the Navy controversy is over, said, “I would think so.”

“It sends a clear message it’s not for the best for the city.”

Asked if the council would revisit the matter, Councill said, “Not a chance on my part.”

The Navy had proposed using the airport to train pilots of turboprop aircraft that carry people and cargo to carriers at sea.

Navy officials last week announced that they are seeking proposals from other interested airfields in the region.