Jerry Orr had become a lightning rod in the battle over Charlottes airport, but he was the one who finally said something everyone in the fight can embrace.
The ongoing dispute needs to be resolved, and needs to be resolved now, Orr said Thursday night after announcing his retirement.
Nearly 11 months have passed, and it seems like many more, since news broke that the N.C. legislature was considering seizing control of Charlotte Douglas International and giving it to an independent authority. Given the citys intention to fight as long as necessary in the courts, the uncertainty surrounding one of Charlottes most important assets could persist for an additional two years or more.
It shouldnt. The groundwork is being laid for a resolution all parties can accept, allowing the airport to focus on its mission at a critical time in its life. Everyone involved should capitalize on this moment before it dissipates.
Orr, the airports director the past 24 years, had become a divisive element in the tussle. His departure on Dec. 31 removes that obstacle to a solution. Mayor Patrick Cannon seeks to build goodwill with airport commission backers. And with things not playing out the way they envisioned and with the heat of a legislative session behind them, legislators are believed to be more amenable to a compromise.
No one is talking publicly about what an agreement might look like. The city still prefers that the airport remain a city department led by aviation director Brent Cagle, and legislators such as Rep. Ruth Samuelson still believe an independent commission is a better approach. But negotiations seem to be centered on addressing legislators and business leaders concerns with airport governance in a way the city can tolerate. That could mean, for example, creating new layers of checks and balances to ensure that airport revenues remain off limits from the citys general fund.
The details of such an agreement, of course, are crucial. But city and state leaders need to hammer them out expeditiously. With the American-US Airways merger complete and crucial decisions being made about the companys new structure, Charlotte cant be helped by continuing upheaval at the airlines second-busiest hub.
Perhaps Gov. Pat McCrory could play a constructive role. Lawmakers bypassed him when passing the legislation, and he remained almost silent on the issue. But he recently said the airport should remain part of city government. He should seek to help craft a solution.
The whole episode never should have gotten this far. An agreement might have been brokered last spring, but trust between legislators and the city dissolved quickly and off it went. Charlotte-region residents should hope those wounds are now healing.
Jerry Orr helped build one of the worlds great airports. He deserves credit for that. But he is leaving the scene, and its time to move on. Now everyone should work to get Charlottes crucial economic development tool back on track.
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