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How not to craft an airport compromise

This is what happens when you rush.

In a slapstick display of legislative ineptitude this week, Mecklenburg Rep. Ruth Samuelson has in one short span: backpedaled furiously from a hasty and bad law that took Charlotte Douglas International Airport away from the city that ran it, crafted a hasty new “compromise” bill with fellow legislators over bagels in Raleigh, angrily pulled that bill Thursday when Charlotte officials decided it wasn’t much of a compromise, then decided to ram it through anyway.

The bill won tentative approval Thursday was scheduled for a final vote today.

What would it accomplish? The city, which successfully sought a restraining order to stop the original flawed law from taking effect, would do the same with the newest flawed law. One of Charlotte’s most critical assets will remain in limbo just as its most important client, US Airways, is contemplating its future as a merged company with American Airlines. And, for now, the city and state will continue to careen toward an unnecessary date in court, which could produce messy and embarrassing details that further erode an already toxic relationship.

All because Samuelson and fellow Republican legislators have for months ignored a simple and important message:

Slow down.

Thursday’s compromise, on its surface, seemed to be a better deal for the city. The new law would repeal the earlier law’s airport authority and set up an airport commission in which Charlotte gets seven of 13 appointments. (The Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners would get another.) That means that although the city would lose direct control over airport operations and finances – including the hiring and firing of personnel and the airport director – it still would have indirect control by having the majority of appointments to the commission.

No thanks, the city said Thursday. City Manager Ron Carlee explained that the new commission, created even more haphazardly than the original authority, would still raise significant legal and technical issues involving how the airport would be run. Also, uncertainty would remain over the impact such a law would have on the airport’s $838 million of bond obligations.

“It’s imposing a solution that creates problems,” Carlee told the editorial board Thursday. “We have seen all along the flaws in the path they’ve gone on.”

He’s right. The concerns are similar to those the city raised when legislators proposed the original airport authority, and it’s apparently why Carlee and city officials seem so confident a judge would ultimately agree. It’s also why city officials proposed earlier this month a commission that would have no declared responsibilities until it studied best practices from around the country. Doing so would allow for what many, including this editorial board, have recommended all along – a proper, thoughtful study of airport governance.

In other words, slow down.

Samuelson didn’t listen then, and in her attempt at a face-saving compromise Thursday, she made the same mistake again. The good news: If the bill passes and the city can’t stop it in court, Charlotte has at least avoided losing its asset altogether to an authority. But any airport resolution, for now, remains dangerously up in the air.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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