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Charlotte City Council puts tighter reins on appointees

Still smarting from having one of its own appointees advocate for an airport authority that the city adamantly opposed, Charlotte City Council members Monday passed new guidelines to prevent themselves from being blindsided again.

The policy was drawn up after Shawn Dorsch, the former chairman of the Airport Advisory Committee, angered council members by advocating for the creation of an authority to run Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Dorsch said he was acting as a private citizen and simply expressing his views, but he was still fired from his post by former Mayor Anthony Foxx.

The episode embarrassed city officials, who were in a heated fight to keep control of Charlotte Douglas.

The new policy states that appointees “shall be mindful that they were appointed by the Mayor or City Council ... and, therefore, if they are advising or advocating a position that is contrary to a Council policy, that they notify the Mayor and Council of such as soon as practicable.”

It also stresses that appointees who are in an advisory capacity “shall be mindful that their chief responsibility is to advise the Mayor and Council or other decision-making body rather than to advocate to the public at large, particularly when the position of advocacy is contrary to a Council policy.”

The policy was approved Monday in a 10-0 vote. Patrick Cannon was not at the meeting.

City Attorney Bob Hagemann said the new policy isn’t designed to muzzle appointees.

“This isn’t about saluting the flag and moving on,” he said.

Hagemann said any appointee can express an opinion, but the policy is designed to reinforce that advisory appointees are put in place to offer guidance to the mayor and council – not to work against them.

Council member Warren Cooksey, a Republican, said the policy stemmed from what he called an “uncomfortable memory.”

He was referring to the April meeting when Foxx and council members grilled Dorsch, who often declined to answer their questions.

Council members did not discuss the issue further before voting.

The Airport Advisory Committee had historically been a rubber-stamp organization for former aviation director Jerry Orr. The group would hear plans for airport expansion, and then almost always approve those plans unanimously.

But in early 2013, when controversy over who would run the airport surfaced, it was discovered that Dorsch had been emailing officials from neighboring counties, urging them to support authority legislation. He also told them that their airports wouldn’t be at risk for being taken over by the newly created authority.

Under the new policy, Dorsch would have been required to notify the mayor and council of his actions.

It’s unclear how the city’s new policy would apply to the newly created 13-member Charlotte Airport Commission, which has seven city-appointed members.

The city is fighting to keep control of the airport, but it’s possible the Federal Aviation Administration and a Superior Court judge could decide the commission should be in charge, as the General Assembly intended.

If allowed to run the airport, the commission would control the airport’s checkbook. But the City Council’s appointees could still be subject to the policy, which covers “City Council appointed members of non-City boards and commissions.”

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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