- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The role of a regional commission in North Carolina’s largest airport was spelled out in a state Senate bill approved Wednesday, reinforcing Republicans’ commitment to transfer control away from the city of Charlotte.

The Senate passed a measure confirming that the commission is an agent of the city, which owns Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and will act on behalf of the city in running the airport. The bill gives the commission control of all major operational, financial and regulatory activities of the country’s sixth-busiest airport.

The measure also requires Charlotte officials to answer Federal Aviation Administration questions and work with the commission to administer the airport.

The FAA sought clarification on who ran the airport. According to the Senate, the FAA asked last month whether the commission was an agency of the city or an independent special district. It also asked who was responsible for key roles of the airport and operator.

Republican Sen. Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County said the bill aims to address the FAA’s questions and end discord over the airport.

“All this does is it shows that … the city of Charlotte still owns the airport, the commission is there to act on their behalf so we can get the full economic advantage of our airport,” Rucho said.

A judge has blocked the airport’s transfer to the commission’s control while a lawsuit is considered challenging last year’s legislation that set that in motion.

“We’re trying to find a point of closure in this case so that we could end the discord and move forward in allowing the airport to grow as an economic engine,” Rucho said.

But Mecklenburg County Democrats said the rules are disingenuous and intended to quash the lawsuit between Charlotte and the state on the establishment of the commission. Sen. Malcolm Graham, D-Mecklenburg, said the bill was rushed to the floor with no communication between the Charlotte delegation or Charlotte municipal staff.

“While this bill was before us procedurally correct, it is my opinion that it breaks the spirit of the rules,” he said.

Several Charlotte-area Democrats said the bill just deepens the divide and mistrust between the city and the statehouse.

It’s about more than an airport it’s about governance, it’s about trust,” said Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, who was appointed last month to replace former Sen. Dan Clodfelter, the current mayor of Charlotte. “This bill was dropped on us yesterday we had no idea it was coming.”

Clodfelter said in a statement Wednesday that he is disappointed in the legislation and asked the General Assembly to vote it down while discussions in Charlotte continue.

“I think the airport and the community all are better served if we can first find a resolution of this dispute among interests here in Charlotte and then decide how to put that solution into legislation,” he said.

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