Town hall meeting held to address airport takeover - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Town hall meeting held to address airport takeover

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There's a push in Raleigh to transfer control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport to a regional authority. A bill has already passed the Senate and similar legislation hangs in limbo in the House.

A town-hall style meeting was held Saturday for citizens to weigh in on the issue. Charlottean Jeremy Johnson organized the event. Johnson says he felt like residents weren't getting a say and legislation was being steam-rolled through. "It feels like someone is trying to take something away from Charlotte," Johnson said.

More than two dozen people showed up for the meeting including local leaders and lawmakers. The three city council members in attendance Andy Dulin, Claire Fallon and Warren Cooksey all spoke out against the idea.

However, several residents seemed to have already made up their minds in favor of the takeover. Jerry Blackmon says folks should be looking at the future, "the progress that's taking place," and he thinks an authority would have the "time and talent" to take care of an airport.

No one at the meeting had anything negative to say about the way the airport is operating now.

"As a conservative, I tend to think if it aint broke don't fix it," Councilman Warren Cooksey said. Cooksey fears the city losing control of the airport could mean losing "hub status" if the regional authority choses lower fares over direct flights.

"When you look at the largest airports in the United States..most of them are run as city departments..not separate departments," Cooksey said. He wouldn't question the motives behind the takeover but did point to concern over who the next aviator director will be.

One reason, along with the recent merger of Southwest and AirTran and new appointment of a city manager that Representative Ruth Samuelson points to as why it's time to look at a regional authority now. "Sometimes if you wait till something's broke to fix it, you've missed an opportunity...the authority can help us deal with complex issues while the city is becoming is more complex while the airport is more complex. Now is the time to look at putting in a structure that is dedicated to making sure our airport is the best it can be," Samuelson said.

Samuelson says she is waiting to see what the city-funded study finds before moving the piece of legislation forward in the House. 

At the beginning of the controversy, sources told WBTV one reason for picking Ron Carlee as the new city manager is in hopes he can convince state leaders the takeover is a bad idea.

Bill sponsor Bob Rucho and other Republican state leaders say they're concerned the city is meddling in airport business.

Rucho calls the airport an economic engine and says it needs the focus and expertise of an authority board, which would be made up of 13 members including Governor Pat McCrory.

Senate Bill 81 passed in a Senate committee earlier this year.

Sen. Bob Rucho says with Jerry Orr's impending retirement, it's critical for a smooth transition and for the city to take credit for the airport's success is false. "Jerry Orr and his people are the reason for its success...politics and patronage have no place in the operation of the airport," Rucho said. Rucho also noted the state doesn't get "one penny from this bill" and the move is "not a power grab by the state - not one iota."

The final report on the study is expected May 1.

Copyright 2013 WBTV. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.

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