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Council Scolds Consultant Over Airport Study Findings

Ben Bradford

In their fight to retain control of the Charlotte airport, the city council paid Bob Hazel of consulting firm Oliver Wyman $150,000, to study the airport and conclude the best form of governance—the current form of city control or an independent authority, as state lawmakers are pushing for. Hazel said an authority, and the city council didn’t like that answer. They told him so at Monday’s council meeting.

“It’s run very well for 78 years. Now, why would you want to take that away from us and give it to someone of an unknown quantity or quality?” said Councilwoman Claire Green Fallon. “I’ve been on an authority, I know what they do. It’s very hard to keep them from being corrupt. Why would you want to do that to Charlotte?”

Hazel agreed the airport had been well-run, but said his research showed that authorities are the better practice.

“I think that the history of Charlotte, which is a wonderful history, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do things differently in the future,” said Hazel. “There’s an inherent advantage to a well-structured authority.”

Hazel told the council an airport authority only has to focus on airport issues. It can make faster decisions, like a business, and it can maintain clear financial independence from the city.

The report also found plenty of superlatives about Charlotte-Douglas. It has the lowest cost for airlines of the nation’s top 25 airports—the most important factor for its continuation as a “hub” airport, according to Hazel.  The consultant had nothing but good things to say about how it’s been run by the city. In fact, Hazel says compared to other airports, the legislature has less of a case for change to an authority.

Councilman Andy Dulin had some choice words for Hazel.

“I don’t fully respect your work,” Dulin said. “And, I can’t speak for the rest of this crowd but do not put me on your reference list.”

I knew this was going to be a controversial subject,” Hazel said. “I took it anyway. I did my best to provide an independent and objective study. I’m sorry you don’t agree with the conclusions, I’m sorry you don’t respect my work. I did my best. I didn’t come in with a conclusion written before I took the assignment.”

The report doesn’t endorse legislation already approved by the Senate. In fact, Hazel has some problems with it. For one, he says the authority doesn’t include enough Charlotte representation to be ideal.

The council didn’t end the meeting with decisive action. They did vote for city manager Ron Carlee to come up with recommendations for what the next step should be.