The new, independent commission set up to run Charlotte Douglas International Airport is set to meet for the first time Thursday night, but without the power to actually run the airport.
The 13 members, many of whom havent met each other, will take their oath of office, get an update on the legal fight surrounding the airport, and elect a chairperson. Executive director Jerry Orr, Charlottes former aviation director, told the Observer he plans to give the members an introduction to the airport operations.
Ill make a brief presentation to them with some slides, give them an overview of what we do at the airport and how we do it, said Orr. He lost his city job overseeing the airport this summer, after the N.C. General Assembly passed a law transferring control of Charlotte Douglas from City Council to a new authority.
Under the law, Orr was named executive director of the airport commission, and is still receiving his $211,000 annual salary.
Making an odd situation even odder: The commissioners will meet in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, in a room typically used by City Council, which is spearheading the fight against them. Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlees office worked with the commission to help schedule the meeting.
Of the 13 members, seven were appointed by the Charlotte mayor and city council, and one each was appointed by Mecklenburg and the five surrounding counties.
Some members of the airport commission said they didnt expect to accomplish too much business at their first meeting.
I dont know whats going to happen, said Chad Brown, a Gaston County commissioner. Theres still no clear answer to whos going to be in charge of the airport. He said Thursdays meeting could be more of a meet-and-greet.
Lanny Lancaster, a real estate agent and airplane appraiser from Cabarrus County, said he plans to treat Thursdays meeting as an opportunity to learn more about the airport.
One of the few powers the commission isnt blocked from using is the power to hire, set the pay for and fire its executive director. Lancaster said he hopes the board decides to keep Orr as its executive director for the foreseeable future.
I feel Jerry, as of right now, needs to definitely stay to lead us through this transition, he said. Doing away with him...would be a foolish move.
No easy fight
After the General Assembly transferred airport control to the commission in July, Orr and commission attorney Richard Vinroot predicted a quick transition. They and expected the Federal Aviation Administration could certify them to run the airport within days.
But the battle has bogged down in court, and both the FAA and a Superior Court Judge have said theyre not able to make key decisions about whether the commission can run Charlotte Douglas.
Immediately after the law was passed, the city sued to block the commission from exercising most of its powers. A judge granted the city a temporary injunction, until the FAA decided whether to give the commission a certificate to operate the airport.
The FAA deferred the question back to the judge. Last week the judge referred it back to the FAA.
Another hearing is scheduled for December. Its unclear when the commission might receive approval to run Charlotte Douglas.
If Orr and the commission win their legal battle, Orr will return to run the airport. Orr, 72, has said hell retire by June 2015.
For now, Charlotte Douglas remains an independently-funded city department, owned by the city and under the direction of interim aviation director Brent Cagle. The city would retain ownership of the airport property, but not control of its operations, under the commission bill.
Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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