There are oh, so, so, so many reasons to wonder about DeKalb Peachtree Airport. Terrorists and drug smugglers possibly winging in on flights that have no records. Air pollution on an industrial scale. Noise at rock-concert-decibel levels. PDK, Federal Aviation Administration and DeKalb County officials who thumb their noses at Georgia's Open Records law. Secretive plans to turn the airport into a base for much larger planes than what is envisioned for a private-craft "general aviation" facility.
Let's see, did I miss anything? Right, I forgot to mention high-pressure, covert lobbying by Cox Radio blowhard Neal Boortz to preserve a sweetheart deal he and some buddies have on PDK's public property.
Here's the scoop. In 1992, a squadron of partying private pilots who buzz in and out of PDK landed a cushy deal. For $250 a month, they rented the old control tower at PDK and converted it into the mucho private Pentagon Club.
The club's president, Larry King, who runs King's Aviation Services, described the Pentagon Club in a 2003 letter to the airport as "a unique place that is the envy of pilots worldwide."
La-di-dah, ain't we hot stuff?
King wouldn't tell me who Pentagon's members are -- but he did allow that the roster includes "several fairly significant people in DeKalb County government."
That thickens the plot, doesn't it? Or, as Susan Gouinlock, a PDK critic, says, "It's just like a good ol' boys club from the 1940s or '50s."
Not revealed by King or Boortz is whether members wear WWI leather flying helmets and call each other "Ace" at Pentagon Club rituals.
King did acknowledge that one of the club's founders is Boortz, best known for his often racist-tinged, class-warfare rhetoric, and for an amazing string of on-air prevarications, including lying about his draft dodging during the Vietnam War.
In 2003, the Pentagon Club -- described as "very plush" by one airport gadfly who snuck a peek inside -- had a lease problem. An old agreement had expired; the club was on a month-to-month arrangement. Ominously, other folks were eyeing the tower. One group offered $800 a month, according to airport records I obtained. Charles "Mickey" Feltus, who recently won a landmark Open Records lawsuit against secretive PDK and DeKalb County honchos, says his band of airport critics would happily make a bid on the tower, and other community groups would do the same.
Keep in mind that the tower belongs to the citizens and taxpayers of DeKalb County. It doesn't belong to Boortz, King, "fairly significant" officials, or a few dozen clubby aviation hobbyists. Thus, the only above-reproach strategy is to put the tower out for competitive bids. The return might easily garner tenfold what the Pentagon Club is anteing.
As a libertarian like Boortz (well, OK, we all know he's a faux lib) would say, let the market set the price.
King groused that other leaseholders at PDK don't have to go the competitive bidding route, so why should his club? Good question. Competitive bidding almost always is the best course in dealing with public property. One of the fixed-base operators at PDK said he offers a pretty specialized service, which justifies his no-bid contract. Maybe, but slinging margaritas at the Pentagon Club is hardly such a specialized operation. In any event, the only prudent course for PDK is to open all the contracts to competition.
After all, if the airport's tower had been turned over to poor working moms for a day care center and the mothers had been charged only a pittance, Boortz would have been sloshing vitriol all over the airwaves comparing the women to ticks and leeches (as he has done with New Orleans refugees). If the women also had been black, Boortz would have snickered that with the money they were saving, they were probably buying big-screen TVs (he used just such hyperbole recently to describe black residents of Los Angeles).
But I guess welfare for rich guys is OK for the Coxopoly's fibmaster.
Boortz was provided detailed questions about the Pentagon Club in both an e-mail and a couriered letter. He did not respond. Cox Radio President Robert Neil had "no comment" on Boortz's conflict of interest.
Winging into the yarn at this point is the always wonderfully newsworthy DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones. For the record, I think Jones does a darn good job as CEO, even if his personal life is, um, intriguing. ("Nothing illegal about a ménage a trois," he told me this month.)
Boortz must think Jones does a good job, too. Although you'll find Boortz firing shotgun blasts of ranting, race-baiting criticism about almost every other black official, local and national, there's an interesting silence on the maximum dissembler's broadcasts and website about Jones.
Hmmm, why's that?
Well, here's my hunch. King, in a Sept. 5, 2005, e-mail to Jones, made this you'd-better-pay-attention statement: "Neal Boortz ... has spoken with you in the past about our difficulty in obtaining a lease renewal from DeKalb County."
When I interviewed him, King went further: "[Boortz] has done that [leaning on Jones] more than once." King also boasted that Jones has heard from those powerful DeKalb officials who are club members.
The lobbying paid off. Without competitive bids, the county elected to renew the Pentagon Club's contract.
Jones says he can't recall anything about the Pentagon Club, but says Boortz has the same right to lobby him as does any other citizen. And, Jones says, PDK "is always a headache. If I had my way, I'd sell it."
The Pentagon Club's new lease -- for a mere $300 a month -- is sitting on Jones' desk. Has Boortz attached a price tag for his silence on the DeKalb CEO -- like maybe Jones' signature on the lease? The threat, implicit or explicit, is that Boortz will savage Jones on the air if the CEO doesn't approve the flyboys' government-subsidized playpen.
It goes without saying that honest and ethical media figures shouldn't use their clout to seek personal favors from public officials. But then, who ever called Boortz honest or ethical?
Boortz has never acknowledged his furious lobbying for the Pentagon Club -- heck, while he frequently excoriates airport critics, he's never even mentioned on air the little fraternity.
Court records reveal that PDK and FAA officials conspired to create an "orchestrated dance" that circumvented Georgia's Open Records law.
Activists claim planes much larger than should routinely use the airport to take off and land. Moreover, their research suggests PDK generates as much air pollution as a coal-fired power plant, and poses many other problems to nearby communities.
Much to their surprise, Feltus and friends stumbled on another sensational fact. Many (about half, according to records I obtained) of the flights at PDK are listed on FAA documents as "unknown" -- unknown pilot, unknown type of craft, unknown identifying number. Osama bin Laden could be practicing his next spectacle at PDK, and as long as he knew how to skirt the rules and remain "unknown," officials would be clueless.
Does Boortz address such concerns? He is, he'll remind you, George Bush's cheerleader in the war on terrorism.
Nah, Boortz has nothing but disdain toward the PDK activists. On Feb. 13, he fumed, "You will often find wealth-envy as the impetus behind many of those opposed to [PDK]."
Wealth-envy? Gouinlock responds, "I'm a corporate lawyer. I make lots of money. Others in our group are doctors, tenured professors. The truth is that because we do have money, we've had the time and the finances to fight [the Open Records case]. Boortz is so lacking in arguments, he's just pathetic."
Now, Vernon, do you want to tell us which DeKalb officials belong to the Pentagon Club?
Senior Editor John Sugg -- who denies offering to mute this column in exchange for an invite to Vernon Jones' next party -- can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His blog is at www.johnsugg.com.
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