Sloppy bookkeeping and misfiled federal reports stretch back decades at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and need to be corrected, Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee said Monday.
But former Charlotte Aviation Director Jerry Orr and his attorney, former Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot, dismissed the issues raised by Carlee. Vinroot called them irrelevant and a sideshow to the citys campaign to fight off a new, independent commission the legislature created this year to run Charlotte Douglas.
The commissions future is still uncertain as the city and Orr, who would get his old job back, await a court ruling about whether the commission can run the airport.
Mondays disclosures are the first step in a series of wide-ranging audits Charlotte has launched to examine every aspect of the airports operations. The city plans to spend about $266,000 to examine everything from procurement policies to police staffing to the airports accounting practices in the wake of Orrs removal as airport director this summer.
Interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle said Monday that the airport plans to spend approximately $100,000 more to hire a law firm specializing in FAA compliance to scrutinize Charlotte Douglas procedure.
The findings could mean the city has to pay millions of dollars back to the airport for loans that were never repaid under Orr, who ran the airport for 24 years.
Carlee, accompanied by Cagle, said problems the city has found so far include loans from the airport to the city that werent paid back, required Federal Aviation Administration reports filed incorrectly, and leases for airport grounds that misstated the amount of land under lease.
Carlee said theres no evidence of any deliberate wrongdoing. Rather, he characterized the problems as a byproduct of the airports rapid growth from a small city hub to the countrys eighth-busiest airport by passenger traffic. While praising Orrs leadership several times, Carlee also said the problems show that the airport wasnt keeping pace with its growth.
We have concerns about documentation. I think there was a lack of diligence, Carlee said. He compared the airports growth to a mom-and-pop store that becomes a national retail chain. A number of the systems have not kept up.
In a measure of how divisive the fight over Charlotte Douglas has become, the two sides found themselves at odds Monday over the acreage of an Animal Care and Control pound located on airport grounds, built in 1991.
Carlee and Cagle said the airport had discovered that the facility is actually almost 6 acres, while it is officially listed in leases as only 2 acres. Orr disputed that.
Are they surveyors? Orr said. My people (have) been surveying here since 1830, and I say the building occupies 2 acres.
Orr also said the airport had no trouble with its record-keeping as it grew, and he denied that there would be any more problems found in the future. I dont think there are any irregularities there, he said.
Charlotte Douglas is run as an independently funded city department, reporting to the city managers office. Federal rules prohibit diverting airport revenue which includes landing fees, concessions, parking and more at Charlotte Douglas to non-airport use.
The city spent $150,000 earlier this year to hire consultant Bob Hazel to determine the best way to govern the airport. Hazel recommended an airport authority but praised the citys management of the airport thus far.
Orr called the audits an outrageous expense and said they will distract people from running the airport well.
Something like this requires a tremendous amount of man-hours, said Orr.
Cagle said the airport will be able to run well despite some managers being focused on the audits.
The problems Carlee said the city found so far cover three city-operated facilities on the airports property. They include:
• An Animal Care and Control Shelter. The city built the facility in 1991 with a $3 million loan from the airport. That loan hasnt been repaid, Cagle said. The facility is also listed as 2 acres in the lease, but the city says it is nearly 6 acres.
• The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police helicopter hangar. The city expanded the facility with a $425,000 loan from the airport in 1999, which Cagle said hasnt been repaid. The city has a ground lease for the site, which states the area as 0.25 acres, but the city says it is actually between 2 and 2.5 acres.
• Charlotte Fire Department Station 30. CFD operates the fire station on property the airport bought under the federal noise-abatement program. The airport doesnt charge the city rent because it counts the fire department presence as an in-kind service. But Cagle said that hasnt been properly accounted for, and there is no documentation from the FAA to support or value the in-kind services.
Carlee said the actual amount of money owed by the city or the airport to each other is not the issue, in the scope of both budgets. But he said the damage to the airports reputation as a well-run enterprise could be greater if the issues arent cleared up.
The numbers are actually not that material, Carlee said. Its just that youve got to do it right.
After looking at governmental leases, Carlee said, the focus of the audits will turn to commercial leases at the airport. That could include scrutinizing arrangements with US Airways, the airports largest tenant by far.
Although the fight over who should run the airport is ongoing, Orr said he didnt think the citys move was a deliberate plan to cast doubt on his tenure.
I would hope not, Orr said. I give them more credit than that.
Cagle said hes not trying to find mistakes made by his old boss, who hired him less than two years ago.
Im not digging around trying to find what Jerry did wrong, Cagle said.
Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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