Charlotte Douglas commission chair says compromise stalled

02/27/2014 8:52 PM

02/28/2014 6:59 AM

The chairman of an independent commission set up to run Charlotte’s airport said Thursday that an effort to find a compromise between city and state officials over control of the airport has stalled.

Robert Stolz, chairman of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Commission, also said he has asked the federal government to speed up its decision about whether Charlotte City Council or the new commission should run the airport.

Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon swiftly disputed Stolz’s assertion that compromise efforts have failed.

“Mr. Stolz stands alone in this conclusion, one with which I completely disagree,” Cannon wrote in a statement. “I do not believe that we have exhausted all options and remain hopeful that City and State leaders can find common ground.”

It’s been more than a year since rumors first surfaced that the legislature wanted to take control of the airport from City Council. Some changes have occurred: The commission was created, longtime Aviation Director Jerry Orr lost his job, and the city began a series of audits examining the airport’s operations under Orr.

But with the commission blocked by a judge from actually running Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the city remains in control.

“Really for the last 90 to 100 days, there’s been a real concerted effort to try and find a compromise between the city and the state,” Stolz, a local businessman, told the 13-member commission. Stolz said lawmakers and city officials had met for the last few months, including over the holidays, to no avail.

“Mayor Cannon and Governor McCrory have been amazing in their efforts to roll up their sleeves and try to find a solution,” he said. “We have currently, frankly been unable to find a solution.”

Stolz sent the Federal Aviation Administration a letter Thursday asking the agency to decide whether the 13-member Charlotte Airport Commission or the city should run the airport.

“It is my opinion that we have now run out of opportunities to settle this, and now need for you to weigh in,” Stolz wrote.

The FAA has said it is deliberating over the question since July, while a North Carolina judge has said the FAA needs to rule before he’ll decide on the commission’s fate.

“We’re OK how this thing goes, one way or the other, but we need to have some decisions made,” Stolz told the commission.

The N.C. General Assembly created the commission last year to run Charlotte Douglas. Mecklenburg County Republicans in the legislature said they were concerned the city was meddling in the airport’s affairs and seeking to divert revenue, while the City Council accused the legislature of a power grab.

The City Council fiercely opposed the commission and sued to block it. A judge granted an injunction against the commission, forbidding the group from exercising almost all of its powers.

Orr lost his city job in the struggle, and he and the city couldn’t agree on whether he resigned or was fired. Under the legislation creating the commission, Orr was named the body’s executive director, but he retired in December.

The commission then named the city’s interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle – Orr’s replacement – to be interim executive director of the commission as well.

Cagle is a city employee who reports to City Manager Ron Carlee.

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