When the General Assembly passed a law to transfer control of Charlottes airport from the city to an independent commission, legislators said their goal was to remove politics from its oversight.
Instead, they wanted to put aviation and business experts in charge.
But as the commission takes shape, critics say new members dont have more airport expertise than the City Council members currently in charge of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
Appointees and commission attorney Richard Vinroot, however, say their business backgrounds and other experience make them qualified.
So far, appointed members include a Gaston County commissioner; a former Charlotte city manager; a Bank of America vice president; a former Statesville City Council member; a former Lincoln County commissioner; an attorney specializing in real estate law and estate planning; and the chairman of Lincoln Countys economic development board. One member has a degree in aeronautical science.
Its still not certain the commission will get the chance to run the airport. The city of Charlotte has sued to block the law, and the Federal Aviation Administration hasnt decided who will run the airport.
With the City Councils four appointments this week, the commission now has nine members, enough under the law to meet and start running the airport if the FAA gives its approval. Mayor Patsy Kinsey and the Mecklenburg County Commission still have four appointments total to make before Oct. 1 to round out the 13-member commission.
The bill says members should have experience in aviation, logistics, construction or fields such as law and finance, when practical. Supporters of the commission say the commissioners experience in a variety of areas will help the airport. State Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican and one of the commissions strongest advocates, said that the legislature could not require people to be aviation experts for appointment.
If you look at the people that are on there, most of them have business experience, Rucho said. That background should provide better leadership than what I see from the City Council.
State Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Democrat who opposed the airport commission, said, Im not surprised that the makeup of the appointees thus far doesnt reflect the rhetoric that they articulated earlier. Obviously these people are capable in their own right, but so is the current leadership. We didnt gain anything other than legal bills.
The citys current elected officials were not experts in airports when they were elected.
Some are now retired, such as Kinsey and council member Claire Fallon. Others have business experience, such as Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon, who owns a parking management company, and council member Beth Pickering, who works in auditing for Novant Health Presbyterian Medical System.
Council member LaWana Mayfield, who represents the west side and the neighborhoods adjacent to the airport, worked as a community organizer.
The FAA on Thursday said it wouldnt make a decision on the commission until a Superior Court judge clarifies what its relationship to the city is, and whether the new organization would need a different operating certificate. That leaves the airport in the city control, for now.
The commission on Friday filed court papers asking for the citys lawsuit to be dismissed. Vinroot claims that the commission is part of the city.
Some members of the new commission said their diverse backgrounds will help them run Charlotte Douglas more effectively.
I dont have to know a lot about aviation, said Chad Brown, a Gaston County Commission member who sells architectural coatings for PPG Industries. Someone can teach me a lot about that.
He said his experience will help when it comes to projects such as building infrastructure improvements at the airport. Im sure I can help in those things, to lend expertise, Brown said.
I dont think anyone who runs for local government is a specialist, Brown said. He credited the airports management with Charlotte Douglas growth. You get good people like Jerry Orr.
Cabarrus County appointee Lanny Lancaster has a degree in aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle, an aviation-focused school from which he graduated in 1993. A lifelong aviation enthusiast, Lancaster said he got his pilots license at 16 and took his first solo flight at 17.
I was interested in flying since I was a little boy, he said.
Lancaster eventually became a real estate appraiser. He now owns the Lancaster Company Real Estate in Concord, which handles commercial and residential real estate.
He also owns Goodnights Airport in Kannapolis, a 2,500-foot grass strip. He runs an airplane appraisal business there, and is certified by the National Aircraft Appraisal Association.
I do single engine all the way to corporate jets, Lancaster said. You name it, Ive appraised it.
Lancaster said hes sold more than 100 planes, including, recently, his own, a Diamond Katana. He said his experience in appraising both land and airplanes would serve him well on the commission, which would handle land acquisitions.
Jim Lawton, Iredell Countys appointee, is president of gas distribution company Kivett Oil Co. and a small chain of convenience stores. Lawton also served for 18 years as a Statesville City Council member, and as a member of that citys airport commission.
I have a little bit of aviation experience, Lawton said. He was an Army helicopter pilot from 1965 to 1969, and flew in Vietnam, Lawton said.
On the Charlotte Airport Commission, he said one of his priorities will be safeguarding Statesvilles airport in the event the commission would start sniffing at Statesville. Under language in the airport commission bill, the Charlotte commission could operate surrounding counties airports, with the consent of county commissions.
Lawton said he helped oversee improvements at Statesvilles airport such as lengthening runways and adding an instrument landing system.
We really upgraded that airport, Lawton said. I think Ive got something to bring to the table. Ive been involved in politics, and know how that works.
Union Countys appointee is James Allen Lee, a Monroe attorney who specializes in estate planning, real estate and business law.
He said he doesnt have any aviation experience, though he joked in an interview that he has flown on planes.
That was one of the concerns I had when I was talking to people about this, said Lee, referring to whether he had enough experience with airports. But they wanted independent-minded people.
Lee said he sees his role on the commission as being a representative for Union County to make sure its interests are being served.
He said he wasnt aware of any past instances when Union officials felt slighted or left out of airport plans or operations.
Tom Anderson, Lincolns appointee, is a board member of the Lincoln County Economic Development Association. He is retired but worked as a civil engineer and said he did construction projects at numerous military and civilian airports.
He said his experience with contracts could be an asset for the commission, though he isnt certain how deeply commission members would be involved with daily airport policy.
I believe it will function as a policy board, with the executives carrying out the policy, he said.
Of the City Councils four appointments, two have some direct experience with the airport.
Pam Syfert was city manager for 11 years before she retired in 2007. She was Orrs boss.
Pamela Bennett is a vice president in finance technology at Bank of America and a current member of the Airport Advisory Committee. The committee was briefed on airport operations and expansion plans in monthly meetings.
Anthony Fox, a partner and attorney at Parker Poe, is a resident of west Charlotte. Living near the airport is a requirement for one of the council appointees. Fox had previously been a board member of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.
The councils other selection was Robert Stolz, former chairman of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce and CEO of the Wurth Group North America, a business located near the airport.
Vinroot praised all of the appointments at a news conference Thursday. He said the city and the neighboring counties had made outstanding selections for the board.
Portillo: 704-358-5041; On Twitter @ESPortillo
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