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2:43 pm
Thu July 25, 2013

New Plan For Charlotte Airport Moving Swiftly In Raleigh

Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee says latest airport measure to create a 'commission' is just an 'authority by another name.'
Credit Julie Rose

If you're having trouble keeping up with the status of the Charlotte airport, you're not alone.  Yet another airport bill now making its way through the state legislature in the final hours of the regular session, which is supposed to end at midnight tonight.

All Things Considered Host Mark Rumsey talks with WFAE reporter Julie Rose about the latest twist in the Charlotte airport power struggle.

With this latest bill, state lawmakers are trying to avoid an extended lawsuit, which the city has already filed.  SB 380 repeals SB 81, which passed last week and instead creates sort of a hybrid airport authority.  It would be called an airport commission and seven of the 13 board members would be appointed by Charlotte.  The commission would have full control to operate the airport, make contracts, collect fees, purchase stuff, etc. And the airport director would answer to the commission – not to the city.

The catch is the airport would still technically remain the city's property and the city would be the entity to issue bonds on behalf of the airport – like it always has.  So that would seem to resolve two of the big issues the city has raised in its lawsuit.

But the city is not happy with the latest bill because it still transfers control of the airport to another entity

Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee held a press conference shortly after noon on Thursday and called this new commission just an "authority" by another name. He also indicated the city is not really open to any more compromising with lawmakers this late in the game.

"I mean who wants to gamble with an asset as great as the airport?" said Carlee. "Why would you take a risk at writing such technical language in the last minute like this and risking unintended consequences?"

Basically, Carlee says the city would rather fight it out in the courts at this point.

Getting long-time-turned-former aviation director Jerry Orr back in charge at the airport appears to be a main goal of the new bill.  Republican lawmakers say they didn't expect the city to fire Orr.  The city says he wasn't fired, but rather resigned when he informed the he was assuming a new position as director of the airport authority. Since the airport transfer is on-hold pending the city's lawsuit, Orr is currently out of a job.

Representative Bill Brawley told his colleagues during a vote on the new bill Thursday afternoon that waiting for the situation to be resolved in court is too risky.

"We'd be happy to spend the next 18 months in court if a competent director was in charge of the airport, but a new financial officer is in charge along with a new mayor and new city manager," said Brawley. "we need somebody that knows how to run an airport."

If the new bill - SB 380 - passes, Orr would be back in charge of the airport.  

The city of Charlotte says it's "reviewing all of its actions to respond" if the bill passes.  While SB 380 has already passed one House vote, it faces procedural hurdles that may prevent it from getting approval from Senators before they adjourn at midnight.