For years, it was a small perk of being a Charlotte politician, government official and even business leader: free parking at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
But after an audit last year, the airport revoked most of the passes, known as the “teal card program.”
The free parking program was a holdover from former aviation director Jerry Orr, who ran Charlotte Douglas from 1989 to 2013.
After interim aviation director Brent Cagle took over from Orr, the airport hired a consultant, McGladrey, to review finances. The airport said the firm found a large number of outstanding cards that provided free parking, even when the card holders no longer had the jobs that gave them access to the cards in the first place.
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The airport decided in August 2014 that free parking should only be for “airport-related business.”
It wasn’t clear how much the airport had spent on free parking annually for the teal card holders.
The cards had been good for any airport parking lot or deck, including the spaces closest to the terminal that charged for parking by the hour.
Earlier this decade, the airport demolished two hourly decks that had been closest to the terminal. Charlotte Douglas built a new large hourly deck on the same spot, but the cards had been revoked by the time that deck opened before Thanksgiving 2014.
The city provided the Observer with a list of who used to hold the 220 coveted teal cards.
They included all City Council members and county commissioners, and several members of Congress.
Former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison also had a teal card. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority and the Charlotte Chamber each had two teal cards.
The Charlotte Regional Partnership, a regional group that recruits businesses to the area, had 22 cards.
The heads of city departments, like transit and solid waste, also had free airport parking.
The Observer in 2002 wrote about the airport parking passes, which then numbered more than 300. At the time, Orr said the passes were intended for official use, though he said the airport had no way of enforcing that request.