Oct. 07--Sloppy bookkeeping and misfiled federal reports stretch back decades at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and need to be corrected, Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee said Monday.
But former Charlotte Aviation Director Jerry Orr and his attorney, former Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot, dismissed the issues raised by Carlee. Vinroot called them "irrelevant" and a "sideshow" to the city's campaign to fight off a new, independent commission the legislature created this year to run Charlotte Douglas.
The commission's future is still uncertain as the city and Orr, who would get his old job back, await a court ruling about whether the commission can run the airport.
Monday's disclosures are the first step in a series of wide-ranging audits Charlotte has launched to examine every aspect of the airport's operations. The city plans to spend about $266,000 to examine everything from procurement policies to police staffing to the airport's accounting practices in the wake of Orr's removal as airport director this summer.
Interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle said Monday that the airport plans to spend approximately $100,000 more to hire a law firm specializing in FAA compliance to scrutinize Charlotte Douglas' procedure.
The findings could mean the city has to pay millions of dollars back to the airport for loans that were never repaid under Orr, who ran the airport for 24 years.
Carlee, accompanied by Cagle, said problems the city has found so far include loans from the airport to the city that weren't paid back, required Federal Aviation Administration reports filed incorrectly, and leases for airport grounds that misstated the amount of land under lease.
Carlee said there's no evidence of any deliberate wrongdoing. Rather, he characterized the problems as a byproduct of the airport's rapid growth from a small city hub to the country's eighth-busiest airport by passenger traffic. While praising Orr's leadership several times, Carlee also said the problems show that the airport wasn't keeping pace with its growth.
"We have concerns about documentation. I think there was a lack of diligence," Carlee said. He compared the airport's growth to a mom-and-pop store that becomes a national retail chain. "A number of the systems have not kept up."
In a measure of how divisive the fight over Charlotte Douglas has become, the two sides found themselves at odds Monday over the acreage of an Animal Care and Control pound located on airport grounds, built in 1991.
Carlee and Cagle said the airport had discovered that the facility is actually almost 6 acres, while it is officially listed in leases as only 2 acres. Orr disputed that.
"Are they surveyors?" Orr said. "My people (have) been surveying here since 1830, and I say the building occupies 2 acres."
Orr also said the airport had no trouble with its record-keeping as it grew, and he denied that there would be any more problems found in the future. "I don't think there are any irregularities there," he said.
Charlotte Douglas is run as an independently funded city department, reporting to the city manager's office. Federal rules prohibit diverting airport revenue -- which includes landing fees, concessions, parking and more at Charlotte Douglas -- to non-airport use.
The city spent $150,000 earlier this year to hire consultant Bob Hazel to determine the best way to govern the airport. Hazel recommended an airport authority but praised the city's management of the airport thus far.
Orr called the audits an "outrageous" expense and said they will distract people from running the airport well.
"Something like this requires a tremendous amount of man-hours," said Orr.
Cagle said the airport will be able to run well despite some managers being focused on the audits.
The problems Carlee said the city found so far cover three city-operated facilities on the airport's property. They include:
Orr lost his city job after the N.C. General Assembly passed a law this summer transferring control of the airport from City Council to a new, independent body.
The new, independent commission set up to run Charlotte Douglas International Airport met for the first time Thursday night, but without the power to actually run the airport.
With a round of introductions and an oath of office, the 13-member Charlotte Douglas International Airport Commission officially came into being Thursday -- and immediately faced questions about...
Hostility and sniping between former aviation director Jerry Orr, City Council and Republican and Democratic state legislators has become almost a yearlong war of attrition over the airport's future.