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Airport commission to discuss Orr, legal bills at next meeting

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  • Who’s on the airport commission

    Appointed by Gaston County

    • Chad Brown Gaston County Commissioner, sells architectural coatings for PPG Industries

    Appointed by Iredell County

    • Jim Lawton: Former Statesville City Council and airport commission member, president of Kivett Oil Co.

    Appointed by Cabarrus County

    • Lanny Lancaster: Real estate agent, airplane appraiser

    Appointed by Lincoln County

    • Tom Anderson: Former county commissioner, chairman of the Lincoln Economic Development Association

    Appointed by Union County

    • James Allen Lee: Attorney with Helms Robinson & Lee specializing in estate planning and real estate law

    Appointed by Charlotte City Council

    • Pam Syfert: Former Charlotte city manager

    • Linda Ashendorf: Linda Ashendorf Public Affairs

    • Anthony Fox: Attorney with Parker Poe, former board member of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

    • Robert Stolz: Former chairman of N.C. Chamber of Commerce, chief executive of the Wurth Group North America

    Appointed by Mecklenburg County

    • Randy Freeman: CEO of Freeman Mortgage Services

    Appointed by Mayor Patsy Kinsey

    • Aaron McKeithan Jr., west Charlotte neighborhood leader, retired healthcare technician

    • Joan Higginbotham, former astronaut, current director of community relations at Lowe’s Inc.

    • Cameron Harris, insurance executive

    Who’s on the oversight committee

    Appointed by Mayor Kinsey

    • Pamela Bennett: Bank of America executive and current member of the Airport Advisory Committee

    Appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory

    • Felix Sabates: Car dealer and sports teams co-owner

    Appointed by N.C. Senate Pres. Pro Tem Phil Berger

    • Johnny Harris: Developer, Piedmont Natural Gas board member

    Appointed by N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis

    • Muriel Sheubrooks: Piedmont Natural Gas board member, retired partner at Greater Carolinas Real Estate Services

    Ely Portillo



At the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Commission’s next meeting, the new board will likely decide the future of executive director Jerry Orr and how to pay its attorneys when it doesn’t have any money.

And after that, some members suggested Friday, the commission could go dormant – laying low and not meeting for months or even years while the Federal Aviation Administration decides who really controls the airport. A lawsuit over the commission is also working its way through the courts.

“Once we deal with those issues, I see our role as waiting to see if we’re empowered,” said commission member Anthony Fox, an attorney with Parker Poe. A veteran litigator, he predicted the city’s lawsuit challenging the commission could take “easily two years.”

“Until we get the power to act, if indeed we ever do, our role is very limited or non-existent,” said Fox.

That would be a major reversal for advocates of the airport commission, who sought to move control of Charlotte Douglas from City Council to the new, 13-member panel. The idea was championed by Republican state legislators from Mecklenburg County, who said they needed to save the airport from political interference and bring back Orr to his old job of running the airport.

While the commission waits in limbo, the city is still running the airport under the leadership of interim aviation director Brent Cagle.

The city sued to block the commission in July, after the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill to create it and name Orr the executive director. A local judge barred the commission under a preliminary injunction from using most of its powers.

The commission met for the first time Thursday and immediately faced questions about what, if anything, they could do. Felix Sabates, a car dealer and member of an oversight committee created to report on the commission, said some commission members don’t want the board to run the airport.

Some members said Friday they weren’t sure how committed the entire group is to actually getting the commission off the ground.

“You could possibly have a couple different agendas,” said Lanny Lancaster, a commission member appointed by Cabarrus County. “City appointees are obviously more to protect the city.”

He said he’s in favor of the commission. “I’m not sure everyone else is,” said Lancaster.

Two issues: Orr and the lawyers

Jim Lawton, Iredell County’s appointee, laid out the commission’s situation under the judge’s injunction.

“We only have two things we can do, and that is control the legal counsel and control the executive director,” he said.

One major issue is what to do about their lawyers. Vinroot and his firm, Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson, were hired by Orr before the commission existed. They’ve been working for more than three months without being paid.

The city still controls all of the airport’s revenues, which come from airline landing fees, concession and parking revenue, and federal grants. Under federal law, the airport’s money can only be spent for airport-related uses.

“The commission today doesn’t have any funds. The firms that are working with us know that,” said Robert Stolz, chairman of the commission.

On Thursday, the commission voted to stop much of Vinroot’s legal work. They told him to only deal with the FAA, not the legal fight with Charlotte. The commission asked Vinroot and his firm for a total bill as well.

On Friday Vinroot said a total bill wasn’t compiled yet. He said he has no concerns about not getting paid.

City Attorney Bob Hagemann said Thursday that while Charlotte controls the airport’s money, the city would fight to not pay the commission’s legal bills. And City Council members said Friday that they don’t support paying the commission’s legal bills.

“My gut says, ‘absolutely not,’” David Howard said. “But I would listen to the city manager and city attorney’s recommendation.” Mayor Patsy Kinsey said she doesn’t support paying the commission’s bill.

The other major issue the commission faces is what to do with its executive director.

Orr lost his city job as aviation director in July, after the legislature passed its bill taking control of the airport from Charlotte. Orr is still receiving his $211,000 salary, paid for with airport revenues, because he was named the commission’s executive director under the law.

Commission member Aaron McKeithan Jr. said Orr’s role is unclear, since he can’t actually run anything at the airport now.

“Right now, we don’t know what his status is,” said McKeithan. Some commission members think the group should remove Orr, or at least stop paying him.

“We need to deal with the question of should our community carry the cost of two directors and the compensation package that is associated with that,” said Fox. “We need to really visit that and see if that serves a valid purpose and gives adequate return.”

McKeithan was more blunt. “If you’re not producing, then why are we paying you?” he said of Orr. “We’re not getting production.”

Some members favor keeping Orr, however.

“How could you get rid of this guy who’s done so much for our airport and our community?” said Lancaster, a real estate agent. “That would be like in your most booming time letting your head Realtor go.”

Stolz said both issues will be dealt with at the next meeting, to be held sometime next month. After that, it’s not certain when the commission will meet again.

“We’ll know more, probably, in December,” said Stolz. “I think we’ll keep it flexible right now.” Observer staff writer Steve Harrison contributed.

Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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