Charlotte aviation director Jerry Orr said Thursday that transitioning to an independent authority from city control would be a smooth process, contradicting the city managers warning on Wednesday that the airport could be headed for chaos.
Orr also said he has spoken in general terms with some of the bills supporters, including State Sen. Bob Rucho and Rep. Bill Brawley, about the latest version of the proposed legislation.
The proposal to create an independent, regional authority to run the Charlotte Douglas International Airport was approved by a committee in the state House this week. It could be headed to the floor for final approval later this month, and would become law without a signature from the governor, since it is a local bill.
The latest draft of the bill, released Tuesday, would create an 11-member authority to own and operate the airport. Only two members would be from Charlotte. All of the airports property would immediately transfer to the authority. Previous versions of the bill had a 90-day transition period built in to transfer ownership and operations to the authority.
Charlotte city manager Ron Carlee who is Orrs boss said Wednesday that the new bill could disrupt airport contracts and raise questions about millions of dollars of airport bonds, since it doesnt include any time to transition. The airport is really in jeopardy, Carlee said.
But after Thursdays meeting of the Airport Advisory Committee, Orr downplayed Carlees concerns.
Should the bill pass, it will be a smooth transition, said Orr, who has been aviation director since 1989. It has to be.
He said much will remain the same, with the same workforce at the airport after an authority. The same 20,000 people will show up the day after a bill passes, Orr said.
One group of employees that could see changes under an authority is the airport police officers. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police assumed control of the airport police last year, a move that Orr opposed and called a debacle in one internal email.
Under the proposed legislation, the authority would have the power to hire its own police force. Orr declined to say Thursday whether Charlotte Douglas would stick with CMPD or hire its own police officers, as it had for years before.
That would be a decision for the board, Orr said. The current Airport Advisory Committee would serve as the authoritys board until a new authority board is appointed.
In February, when the authority bill was first introduced, Orr was directed by interim city manager Julie Birch not to lobby for an authority. But he broke his silence in April, publicly saying that the airport should be run by an authority.
Sate Sen. Malcolm Graham called for Orr to be fired for insubordination after his remarks. But the latest version of the airport authority bill appears to erase any doubt about who would run the airport: It specifies that the aviation director on Feb. 14, Orr, would be hired immediately on passage of the bill to be airport director.
Asked on Thursday whether he still supported an airport authority after reading the latest version of the proposed bill, Orr responded with one of his characteristic quips: I am often wrong, but never in doubt.
Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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