Airport Commission Questions Existence, Considers Firing Orr In First Meeting

Nov 8, 2013

The Charlotte airport commission—which the city wants to disband—met for the first time last night, in the city council's own quarters. Commissioners met to figure out what, if any, role they have while a court battle stalls their takeover of Charlotte Douglas Airport.  After four hours of deliberation, the 13-member commission decided to put its lawyers on a short leash, but stopped short of firing their executive director.

Charlotte city manager Ron Carlee (right) addresses the Charlotte Airport Commission, including lawyers Martin Brackett and Richard Vinroot (at end of table), and executive director Jerry Orr. City officials have sued the commission, are facing Vinroot and Brackett in court, and ousted Orr from his previous post as Charlotte aviation director. City lawmakers also appointed most of the commission.
Credit Ben Bradford / WFAE

It was a strange meeting right from the start, with commissioners bemoaning the "convoluted" nature of the circumstance that brought them together and, as the night wore on, plainly wondering why their commission even exists.

“We’re a commission without a country and I’m a chairman without a gavel,” newly-elected chairman Robert Stolz joked.

The commission’s lawyer, Richard Vinroot, explained to commissioners that they do not have the authority to manage the airport—a judge is blocking the commission due to a lawsuit from the City of Charlotte.

Vinroot has spent the last three months fiercely defending the commission's right to exist. But as soon as they convened their first meeting last night, several commissioners—who were appointed by the city council—pushed Vinroot aside and questioned the need for private attorneys to defend them in court.

As the meeting wore on, most of the seven commissioners appointed by the Charlotte City Council and Mayor made clear they stand with the city in this power struggle and would probably be happy to see the commission dissolved by the court.  Right now, the commission is prohibited from having anything to do with the airport until a judge says otherwise.

As commissioner Jim Lawton of Iredell County noted: “We can fire Jerry Orr and we can fire the law firm. Those are the two things we can do.”

Jerry Orr is the commission’s executive director—appointed by the law—and the former Charlotte Douglas aviation director, who the city ousted during this fight.

Commissioners conferred privately about the fate of Orr and the lawyers, and emerged with a relatively muted decision. Rather than fire its lawyers, the commission instructed Vinroot's team to work only on forging legal agreements with federal regulators. The commission has not decided if it will let the attorneys continue fighting for its existence in court. Nor did it fire Orr.

For now, he remains with the Charlotte Airport Commission, but it is not guaranteed to last. The commission already plans another look at Orr at their next meeting in December.