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Orr says his presence was impediment to airport resolution

CLTCommission1220
Robert Lahser - rlahser@charlotteobserver.com
Jerry Orr (center) leaves after talking with reporters following an announcement that he is retiring effective Dec 31, 2013.

Former Charlotte Airport Commission Executive Director Jerry Orr said in his retirement letter last week that he hopes leaving his position will help resolve the ongoing dispute over who should run the city’s airport.

Orr, 72, will retire effective Dec. 31. In a brief letter to commission Chairman Robert Stolz, Orr said his previous plan of returning to run the airport and then retiring in June 2015 would no longer work.

“You and I have talked a lot during this past month about your efforts to find a way to resolve the ongoing dispute with the City,” Orr wrote in the Dec. 17 letter. “I’d like to help you achieve that resolution, if possible.

“I now believe my continued involvement with the Commission until (June 2015) may hurt your efforts to find a resolution,” Orr wrote.

The move comes after Gov. Pat McCrory, who worked with Orr during McCrory’s time as Charlotte mayor, said last month that Orr should not return to run the airport.

Orr lost his longtime job as Charlotte aviation director in July, when the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill removing control of the airport from the City Council. Orr had chafed under city oversight, and he supported creating a governing body specifically for the airport.

But despite losing his job with the city, Orr wasn’t out of the picture. The law specified that Orr be named executive director of the Charlotte Airport Commission and continue receiving his $211,000 salary. He stayed in that role even as the city sued to block the commission and won a temporary injunction barring the commission from running Charlotte Douglas.

Orr said he was working to get the commission up and running and secure approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate the airport.

After Orr’s retirement was announced last week, the commission voted to name Charlotte Interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle interim executive director of the commission. Cagle, who replaced Orr at Charlotte Douglas, remains a city employee and reports to City Manager Ron Carlee.

It’s unclear when the commission will meet again, but Stolz has said he hopes the group can pressure the state and the city to reach a compromise on the airport.

The push to separate Charlotte Douglas from city oversight first became public in January. State legislators, led by Mecklenburg Republicans, said the City Council was interfering with the airport’s operation and wanted to take the airport’s money and use it on city projects, which would be illegal.

The city fought to retain control of Charlotte Douglas and said it had to implement stricter controls on security and finances at the airport because of mistakes Orr had made.

For now, the airport remains an independently funded city department, and it’s unclear what the future holds. There aren’t any court hearings scheduled in the ongoing legal fight between the city, state and commission, and the FAA hasn’t said when or if it will decide whether the commission can run the airport.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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