Charlotte officials withhold criticism of airport proposal

06/12/2014 6:03 PM

06/13/2014 7:12 AM

The city of Charlotte remains committed to keeping control of its airport, but officials said little Thursday even as the General Assembly advanced a new bill to put a commission in charge.

City Manager Ron Carlee only reiterated an earlier comment made by Mayor Dan Clodfelter, in which Clodfelter said he is “disappointed” about the new Republican-led legislation.

The mayor said he thought the airport would be “better served if we can first find a resolution of this dispute among interests here in Charlotte and then decide how to put that solution into legislation.”

Carlee said he is “intentionally not commenting ... as part of a good-faith effort to facilitate a collaborative environment as the elected officials work to resolve policy differences.”

Carlee’s tone was echoed by council members, who refrained from some of their bombast from 2013, when the General Assembly passed its first bill to shift control of the airport away from the City Council.

Democrat John Autry declined to comment Thursday, saying he would refer any questions to Carlee’s and Clodfelter’s statements.

Republican Ed Driggs said Thursday that he “would like to see the city and state cooperate and explore the best way to run the airport. We’re still evaluating the bill.”

Driggs said he has an “open mind” about the airport, but he added that the city has run the airport successfully and said he would need to see the results of a formal review to convince him there needs to be a change.

Driggs is one of five new council members serving since summer 2013, when the city and the legislature last clashed over Charlotte Douglas. There are 11 council members, along with the mayor.

It’s unclear how up-to-date the new council is on the airport issue. City Attorney Bob Hagemann said the council has met only one time on the issue in closed session since the new council took office in December.

A new bill that could end the controversy over control of Charlotte Douglas passed the North Carolina Senate on Wednesday and moved to the state House for final approval.

For months, the Federal Aviation Administration, the city, the new airport commission created last year and a North Carolina Superior Court judge have been unable or unwilling to resolve a stalemate.

The FAA said it needs to know whether the commission is part of the city government or a separate entity before it will decide whether to let the commission run the airport. At the same time, a judge has said he needs the FAA to make a decision before moving forward in the city’s lawsuit to block the commission.

The new bill definitively states that the airport commission is an agency of the city government. State Sen. Bob Rucho, who is a primary supporter of the push for a commission, said the new bill will clarify airport ownership, clearing the way for the FAA to make a ruling.

It’s unclear what the city’s strategy may be if the House approves the bill. That could happen early next week.

In its lawsuit last summer, the city won an injunction against the commission operating the airport. Charlotte might not have to seek another injunction against the new legislation.

“We are following the legislation and analyzing the language, but given the ongoing litigation it would be inappropriate for me to comment beyond that,” Hagemann said.

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