Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee said Friday that his focus is on keeping Charlotte Douglas International Airport stable, as the city and authority supporters geared up for a legal battle over control of the airport.
One day after removing longtime aviation director Jerry Orr, Carlee introduced interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle, formerly an assistant airport director overseeing finance at Charlotte Douglas.
“My focus today has really been to get things stabilized here at the airport,” Carlee said at one of the airport’s administrative buildings. He said he has spoken with US Airways, the airport’s dominant carrier, and local business leaders as well to convey one message: It’s business as usual at Charlotte Douglas.
Cagle has been at Charlotte Douglas for a little more than a year. Prior to that, he worked at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, another US Airways hub.
“As always, I’ll work closely with US Airways,” Cagle said. “We had a good conversation” Thursday night, Cagle said. “Charlotte Douglas will remain committed to providing the highest quality at the lowest cost.”
No other leadership positions at the airport will change, Carlee and Cagle said. Cagle’s salary has been set at $152,640, a 20 percent increase from his previous position.
Carlee said that he had picked Cagle from the four assistant aviation directors because Orr had told him Cagle was his point man. Carlee said Cagle’s name came up frequently in succession planning discussions with Orr, 72.
“I’ve had a number of conversations with Jerry Orr,” said Carlee. “It’s no surprise that Jerry has talked extensively about retirement.”
Orr could not be reached Friday.
US Airways said in a statement Thursday it supports Cagle, although it praised Orr’s leadership and said the airline is “disappointed” Orr was removed.
Some authority supporters on Friday criticized the choice of Cagle. Former city council member Stan Campbell said the airport needs someone with more operational experience, such as Orr, a civil engineer and land surveyor who was closely involved with planning airport construction.
“He comes from the finance side, and now he’s in charge of the sixth-busiest airport in the world?” Campbell said. “That’s supposed to give us confidence in city management?”
But Carlee defended Cagle’s qualifications. He said Cagle has seven years in aviation management and a career before that in municipal government that has prepared him for this role. Cagle also previously served as a budget analyst and internal auditor in Phoenix.
Carlee also said he would keep Cagle out of the political fights surrounding the airport.
“My job is to serve as a barrier between that and Mr. Cagle,” said Carlee.
Legal fight looms
The legal status of an airport authority created by the legislature Thursday is now in the hands of the courts. The city obtained a temporary restraining order Thursday blocking the state from implementing the law, which would transfer control of the airport to the authority from the city.
City Attorney Bob Hagemann said Friday that, as of now, the date for a hearing on the city’s request for an injunction is July 29. He said the city would be willing to work with the state if it seeks a later court date.
“We will work with the attorney general,” Hagemann said. “But we are ready to go in 10 days.”
There is still disagreement over whether Orr resigned or was fired. Orr’s attorney, former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, said that Orr was fired by the city.
But Carlee said Orr resigned by sending a letter saying he was director of the Charlotte Airport Authority and no longer worked for the city. Vinroot said Orr did not intend that to be a resignation, and Orr said he was just following the letter of the law.
Hagemann said he had not met with Orr to explain the process for a transfer and possible legal ramifications of the city’s request for a restraining order prior to Orr’s removal Thursday.
On Thursday evening, Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble met with Orr and attorney Richard Vinroot at the airport. Hagemann participated in the meeting by conference call.
Hagemann said he asked Vinroot who he was representing. Hagemann said Vinroot told him he was representing the airport authority and the executive director of the airport authority, presumably Orr.
Carlee was asked Thursday if he considered ignoring Orr’s letter and refusing his resignation. When asked if he considered telling Orr that there was no airport authority as of Thursday evening, Carlee said, “no comment.”
Republican City Council member Warren Cooksey said Friday morning he supported Carlee’s decision to take Orr’s letter as a resignation from the city.
Cooksey said Orr’s actions over the last several months concerning the airport authority would have never been accepted in the private sector.
“Imagine a senior vice president of a company going behind the back of the CEO to work at creating a spin-off company,” Cooksey said. “Not only would he be terminated, there would be the possibility of legal action against him.”
Should the authority be implemented, Orr would automatically become airport director again. Cagle said he believes he will be fine if that were to happen.
“Jerry Orr and I have a wonderful working relationship,” Cagle said. “And I would expect that to be continued if he comes back.”
Carlee also said the city will be able to work with Orr, should he return.
“I’m an adult, and I expect others are adults, too,” he said.
Staff writer Jim Morrill contributed
Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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