by Michael Lowrey
We’re starting to get an idea what’s behind the push to establish an independent authority to oversee Charlotte Douglas International Airport. As the Charlotte Observer reports, after the Delvonte Tisdale incident in 2010, policing at the airport became a contentious issue between the airport and the CMPD. Based upon the paper’s coverage, it sounds like a big stupid mess in which no one involved behaved all that well.
And from that, we have Jerry Orr’s desire for an independent authority. Throw in some south Charlotte/Matthews distrust of the city of Charlotte, and we are where we are.
If Bob Rucho and Bill Brawley expect that creating an independent authority ends the bickering, they are mistaken. Rather, such a move would likely perpetuate conflict between the airport and the city. Think nasty divorce, with lots of distrust on both sides, and absolutely no reason for either party to be nice to the other.
Is there any reason to expect an independent authority to provide meaningful oversight (pushback) of the airport in general and Jerry Orr in particular? If such an authority comes about, Orr would have effectively succeeded in getting his former bosses fired (OK, removed from his chain of command) for daring to cross him. That point won’t be lost on authority members, and it will make them rather unlikely to question anything Orr says.
The structure of the authority is also questionable — unless your goal is to put a lot of Republicans on the panel or to deprive the city of Charlotte or its residents of any influence whatsoever over airport operations. Rucho and Brawley can talk about how airport authorities are common for the state’s larger airports, but other such boards don’t have representatives from six different counties serving on them. Not sure how responsive this proposed board would be to community concerns. The lack of local knowledge will make members from further away more dependent upon airport staff to understand and suggest solutions to such issues, and that’s rarely a good solution, especially if the airport isn’t getting along with its neighbor, the city.
Bonus observation: Rucho and Brawley absolutely miss the greater danger here. It’s not that the airport gets charged a few million a year extra for police protection. It’s the airport spends a few hundreds of millions (or more) on projects that are ultimately prove to be unnecessary. Jerry Orr has grandiose plans for expanding the airport, turning it into something as absolutely massive as Atlanta, which no one in this town (or the six county area) in any way questions. And there has been very good reason to question Orr’s vision, which frequently has ignored industry fundamentals.