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Long-time CLT Director Orr Is Out At Airport

Julie Rose / WFAE News

Only hours after state lawmakers voted to strip the City of Charlotte of the airport on Thursday afternoon, long-time aviation director, Jerry Orr, lost his control, too.

In the last 25 years, Orr’s name has become synonymous with the success of Charlotte airport. But, last night, City Manager Ron Carlee released a statement saying  he’d accepted Orr’s resignation.

Orr's attorney says he was fired. 

Here's the deal: On Thursday afternoon the legislature passed a bill to create the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Authority. That bill took effect immediately on passage and stipulates that Jerry Orr immediately becomes the director of the airport authority.  So when the bill passed yesterday, Jerry Orr sent a letter to city manager Ron Carlee saying that since he was now director of this new airport authority, "my employment by the city . . .  terminated" when this bill passed.

But the city was over at the courthouse getting a temporary restraining order to stop the transfer. So technically, the airport is still under its jurisdiction and the airport authority doesn't exist yet.  In Carlee's view, Jerry Orr quit the only job he had, which was city aviation director.

"That's a stretch," says former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot who is the lawyer defending the airport authority in court.  He say Orr sent the letter because the legislation basically required it - not because he intended to resign. 

Read Orr's letter here.

Carlee has appointed the airport's chief financial officer – Brent Cagle – to be the city's interim aviation director.

If the court decides that the airport should be in the hands of an airport authority when this is all said and done, Jerry Orr would probably be hired right back, since it seems pretty clear he wasn't intending to leave the airport just yet.

He has been talking about retiring for awhile – he's 72 - but before this latest twist yesterday afternoon, he was talking about the future.

"I told (the airport employees) they have worked hard for a long time and built a great airport here and it's my expectation that we'll do the same thing tomorrow we did yesterday," said Orr.

Orr's supporters think the city was just waiting for a chance to get rid of the long-time aviation director because he'd been clear all along that an airport authority was the set-up he preferred.  Orr's clashes with former city manager Curt Walton helped spur the effort to get the airport out from under the city's control.

"Carlee warned this bill would create chaos and that's exactly what the city is doing with its pettiness," says former city councilman Stan Campbell. 

US Airways released a statement praising Orr's leadership and calling his departure a disappointment.

House Speaker Thom Tillis went further, saying it's "incredibly irresponsible" of the city to "remove the most valuable component of the airport team at this critical juncture." He says it's a clear example of why the city's been so hard for lawmakers to work with on this issue.  And he adds that he's hopeful this "unwise decision will be corrected in the near future."

Legal action on this is expected to move pretty quickly. Some are questioning if the city's restraining order is even valid because it may have been issued before the airport authority bill was officially signed into law late yesterday afternoon.

Read the City of Charlotte's legal complaint against the airport authority legislation here.