In municipalities that operate airports, conflict between elected officials and airport people is inevitable. This is because hundreds of millions of dollars flow through major airports annually, collected from airlines, airport businesses and parking lots, and then spent -- hopefully -- to make the airport better. The elected officials always want more power, more oversight, more opportunity to spend the money as they see fit. Orr, backed by Republican Mayor Pat McCrory, successfully resisted for years, one reason why he has few friends on the city council today. A commission might not be able to beat back the political pressure either, but it could create a bit more distance between the parties.
When I arrived in Charlotte in 1996, the city was essentially run by a small cadre of wise leaders, including
CEO Hugh McColl,
CEO Ed Crutchfield,
CEO Bill Grigg, McCrory -- an effective mayor who became an ineffective governor -- and maybe a few others. They are all gone now, generally replaced by people either less committed to Charlotte or less able or less willing to act on its behalf.
Probably it would never have happened this way, but I can imagine Hugh McColl contacting the mayor, whoever he or she might be, to say that: "Jerry Orr built the airport. He loves the airport. Give him a few more years to complete his projects and to train a successor." And the mayor says sure.
The alternative? Fire the guy, with no transition plan in place, and let the airport hang in the balance with massive construction underway and the biggest tenant's future undetermined. All for spite. City government as spitetocracy.
Can't anybody in Charlotte make the right call?
-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
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