Charlotte Douglas International Airport aviation director Jerry Orr reiterated his public support for an airport authority on Thursday and said he doesn’t think concerns about the transfer of airport bonds are valid.
Orr also said he hasn’t been disciplined for his remarks earlier this week in support of the authority, which his elected supervisors – the Charlotte City Council – oppose.
State Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Mecklenburg Democrat and one of the loudest authority opponents, on Monday called for Orr to be fired for insubordination. In February, Orr had been directed by interim city manager Julie Burch not to lobby for an authority.
“Oh, you mean, have I been fired?” Orr quipped Thursday when asked whether he had faced any consequences since then. “No.”
His remarks came after the monthly Airport Advisory Board meeting. It was the group’s first meeting since Mayor Anthony Foxx removed committee chairman Shawn Dorsch for working to gather support for the authority bill from surrounding counties.
The bill to replace city control and ownership of Charlotte Douglas with a regional authority is awaiting final approval in the N.C. House. The state Senate passed the bill in March, over objections from many Charlotte politicians.
The city has overseen Charlotte Douglas since 1935. Despite massive growth at Charlotte Douglas over the past two decades, Orr said again Thursday that an authority is the best way to run the airport.
“Any business needs to be quick and nimble,” Orr said. “Government is typically not quick and nimble. … Business works better if you run it like a business.”
He said an authority could avoid city purchasing rules, which he said are cumbersome, and would end up “cutting out a lot of layers of management.”
And Orr said he thinks the City Council already has too much to do to oversee the airport. A dedicated board of commissioners would provide better oversight, he said.
“City Council is focused on lots of things, most of which are government, not business,” Orr said. Authority supporters have accused the council of meddling in the airport’s affairs, especially by putting airport police under city control.
State treasurer Janet Cowell has warned lawmakers that creating an independent authority and transferring existing airport revenue bonds to it could open the airport up to lawsuits from bondholders. The airport has more than $800 million worth of outstanding bonds.
On Thursday, Orr said he doesn’t believe Cowell’s concerns have any merit.
“There is no risk,” Orr told the advisory group. He said the bonds are written so only airport revenue is obligated to pay them off, not city tax dollars, and that bondholders would have no reason to sue if the bonds are transferred to an authority.
Committee member Scott Culpepper pressed Orr for more details, asking Orr what the payoff is for taking the risk of being sued.
“The payoff is the authority running the airport,” Orr said.
Portillo: 704-358-5041 Twitter: @ESPortillo
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