CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte’s former Aviation Director Jerry Orr is still receiving his $211,041 annual salary, a month after being removed from his city job, under terms of the law that created a new commission to run the airport.
Orr is awaiting the federal government’s decision on whether the commission can run Charlotte Douglas International Airport. But although the commission doesn’t have any employees or revenue, Orr is legally the executive director. His salary is being paid from the revenues of the airport, which is still a city department.
Orr was ousted as the city’s aviation director on July 18, after the legislature passed a bill creating a regional authority to own and control the airport.
That law was replaced a week later by a second law creating a new, 13-member commission to run Charlotte Douglas, with seven members appointed by the city. The law specified that Charlotte’s aviation director on Feb. 14 – which was Orr – would be the commission’s first executive director.
Charlotte’s attorneys won an injunction blocking the creation of the new commission.
The change in control can’t take effect until the Federal Aviation Administration decides whether the commission is a new legal entity requiring an airport operating certificate or still part of the city of Charlotte. But the judge didn’t block the entire law, only the portions that would let the commission run the airport.
One part of the law that the judge didn’t block specifies that in addition to being named executive director, Orr should receive “initial compensation and benefits of the initial Executive Director being the same compensation and benefits as were being received from the City of Charlotte.”
“This section was not enjoined by the Court; therefore, Mr. Orr is being compensated according to law from airport funds,” said Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee in an emailed statement. “He is not being paid from general tax resources.”
At an annual rate of $211,041, that means Orr would have received about $17,586 in gross compensation since he was removed as aviation director last month.
The airport’s revenues, which come mostly from airplane landing fees, parking revenue and concession sales, are collected in a separate “enterprise fund” distinct from Charlotte’s general tax revenues. The airport’s revenues can only be spent on the airport.
Orr could not be reached by phone for comment, but Martin Brackett, an attorney representing Orr, confirmed Monday that he is still receiving paychecks from the city.
Brackett said Orr hadn’t realized that he was still getting his airport paycheck until an Observer reporter contacted him Monday. He thought he was getting paid for accrued vacation time, Brackett said.
City Attorney Bob Hagemann said the city could have done a better job communicating with Orr.
Brent Cagle, the airport’s former assistant director of administration and finance, has been appointed interim aviation director in Orr’s stead. His salary was set at $152,640, a 20 percent raise.
The circumstances of Orr’s removal are still a matter of dispute. Carlee said that Orr resigned when he sent Carlee a letter July 18 saying he was director of the new airport authority and thus no longer a city employee.
But Orr and his attorney Richard Vinroot have said that Orr never meant to resign. After his removal, Orr unsuccessfully requested his job back in two letters to Carlee.
“I did not and do not desire to resign or retire,” he wrote. “Forcing my unwilling retirement from the City creates unnecessary upheaval and will do both the airport and me substantial and irreparable harm.”
The FAA is still reviewing the commission and hasn’t said when it will issue a ruling. Under the commission, Charlotte would retain ownership of the airport, its bonds and the power of eminent domain, but the commission members would run the airport’s day-to-day operations and finances.
Charlotte City Council member Andy Dulin, an outspoken opponent of transferring control of the airport away from the city, said Monday that he had learned last week that Orr is still being paid.
“I’m aware,” Dulin said. “I do have a problem with it.”
But Dulin said that he is focused on letting the courts resolve the matter of whether to let the commission move forward.
“His salary, although quite large, is a small matter now,” Dulin said.