A Charlotte City Council member is raising questions after an email appears to show that the chairman of the Charlotte airport advisory committee is supporting a legislative push to remove control of the airport from the city.
Shawn Dorsch sent the email, obtained by Observer news partner WCNC-TV on Wednesday. WCNC reported it was sent to state legislators supporting the bill. The message appears to offer talking points for responding to questions about a review of the feasibility of transferring airport bonds to a new authority.
That review, completed Monday by the state Treasurer’s office, recommended the legislature “proceed cautiously” because transferring the bonds to a new authority could result in lawsuits from bondholders. Charlotte officials have been trying to stop or slow the legislation, mostly unsuccessfully, since it was introduced in February.
“Talking Points – Charlotte Douglas Airport Bonds” reads the subject line of Dorsch’s email. “Below are revised talking points ... we feel very good about this,” the email reads. The treasurer’s review “contains nothing new or that would prevent the creation of an authority,” the email said.
City Council member Michael Barnes told WCNC-TV that Dorsch should be removed from the Charlotte Douglas Airport Advisory Committee.
“We’ve learned that there are a lot of people, who we thought were working with us, who are working against us,” Barnes told WCNC-TV. “It is very disappointing that the chair of the airport advisory board, a body that is appointed by the council, is engaged in essentially providing talking points to folks who are trying to take the airport away from Charlotte”
Dorsch declined to respond to Barnes’ remark about being removed from the advisory committee. He said the letter from a bond lawyer to the N.C. Treasurer does not rule out establishing a new, independent authority or keeping the airport under city ownership and control.
“The letter to the Treasurer makes it clear that many options are open to Charlotte,” he said. “There is no obstacle to either alternative. So we can do what’s best for the people of Charlotte, and that is why we are analyzing and weighing all the information so carefully.”
Dorsch declined to discuss the email’s contents or why he sent it.
Mayor Anthony Foxx “continues to be disappointed that Airport Advisory Committee members continue to weigh in on this issue without any discussion with the City Council,” said the mayor’s spokesman in an emailed statement.
Study still not complete
Charlotte has owned and operated the airport since 1935 and has overseen its expansion into one of the busiest hubs in the world. Aviation Director Jerry Orr has run the airport since 1989, and he’s been given a mostly free hand by the City Council. The bill to create an airport authority caught city officials off guard as it has sped through the legislature.
The Senate recently passed the bill in a 32-18 vote that fell largely along party lines, over the objections of Democrats who asked for more time to study the proposal. State Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. Bill Brawley, both Republicans from Matthews, have championed passage of the legislation.
The airport has about $860 million worth of outstanding debt, and those who have been trying to slow the authority push have said uncertainty created by a new airport authority could result in costly problems with transferring that debt. In a letter sent to Rucho on Monday, the deputy treasurer said creating an airport authority “could result in potential prolonged litigation” from bondholders.
But the bill has continued its course through the legislature and will be considered Tuesday by a House committee.
Dorsch is chairman of the 11-member Airport Advisory Committee. The committee is made up of local residents with an interest in aviation. While it advises the City Council on aviation matters, advisory committee members can only take nonbinding votes on airport business.
Stan Campbell, a former City Council member and former chairman of the advisory committee, is leading the push for an airport authority.
Dorsch, who is also executive director of the Carolinas Aviation Museum, was appointed to the Airport Advisory Committee in 2008 by former Mayor Pat McCrory. Dorsch worked for J.P. Morgan in bonds and derivatives trading before starting an electronic derivative trading system in Charlotte.
He was reappointed to the advisory committee by Foxx, who is a vocal opponent of the airport authority.
Dorsch is also a member of the city’s recently appointed airport governance study committee, which is overseeing Charlotte’s $150,000 study of the legislature’s proposed airport authority bill. State legislators have said the bill could pass before the city’s study is complete, however.Barnes did not return messages Friday seeking comment on Dorsch’s email.
Charlotte City Council member Andy Dulin said he thinks Dorsch and other members of the Airport Advisory Committee should stay out of the fray.
“I would hope that (Dorsch) and the rest of his current airport committee would stay neutral until we get our study done,” Dulin said.
Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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