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Mayors urge delay on airport bill

RALEIGH A regional group of mayors is urging legislative leaders to delay a bill that would put Charlotte’s airport under control of an independent authority.

In a letter to House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the mayors said the bill was moving “at a pace too rapidly for all concerned parties to study the potential impacts and provide input.”

The measure transferring control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport from the city to an authority has passed the Senate and awaits action in the House.

The letter said questions about airport debt have been raised by the state treasurer. “These bills deserve a complete vetting process that simply cannot be completed on a fast track,” the mayors wrote.

Some of the mayors, representing the Regional Conference of Mayors Central Carolinas Advisory Board, come from counties whose county boards have endorsed the authority.

Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor said the airport authority issue is another example “of those in Raleigh trying to whittle away at local control.

“We’re just asking them … to hold off making a decision so there is additional time to investigate all the ramifications with all parties at the table,” Taylor said. “We keep hearing they (Charlotte) have done something wrong, but we don’t know any details.

“We want to know specifically what is driving the need for this legislation. We haven’t gotten a satisfactory answer.”

He said he didn’t get detailed answers from Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. Bill Brawley, the bill’s chief sponsors, who are also from Matthews.

“I’m not getting specifics,” he said. “If Charlotte’s airport is the sixth busiest, then how could the city of Charlotte be running it into the ground?”

The issue has angered members of Charlotte City Council, who are unanimously and fiercely against an authority.

This week, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx removed Shawn Dorsch as chairman of the city’s airport advisory committee after he learned that Dorsch had been promoting the authority to leaders in surrounding counties. Dorsch also refused to answer questions Monday during a hearing before the City Council.

During that hearing, Foxx said he was concerned about what the dispute might do to regional cooperation that the Charlotte area has nurtured for decades. He said the regional authority push could damage future regional road projects – which Charlotte may no longer support.

In their letter, the mayors from the 16-county Central Carolinas region noted that tension, writing they rely on regional cooperation to solve problems shared by most municipalities.

Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins said a dozen mayors in the group discussed the issue with Foxx at a regular Central Carolinas meeting last week in his city.

He said Foxx explained the matter as he knew it. “He said, ‘We’re all in this together.’ He didn’t ask us to say we’re for or against” an authority, Atkins said. “He just said, ‘I’m asking for your support as a fellow mayor to lobby Raleigh to step back and allow for dialogue and conversation with all parties at the table.

“The city of Charlotte should have an opportunity to engage in that conversation. It doesn’t appear that they have been.”

Atkins and Taylor said they’d not received any reaction to the letter by late Thursday.

Tillis could not be reached. Berger spokeswoman Amy Auth said the Senate “shares the mayors’ recognition of the Charlotte airport as a huge economic driver for the region and the state.”

“The Senate passed Senate Bill 81 in March,” Auth said, “to ensure the airport is managed by people who have the time and expertise necessary to not only focus on its day-to-day operations but to help it continue to grow and prosper.”

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