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Council Asks Carlee To Review Airport Taxi Deal

Tom Bullock/WFAE News

Monday we brought you the story of an alleged pay-to-play scheme involving Charlotte Douglas International Airport and taxi companies.  In 2011 the City Council slashed the number of companies that could pick-up at the airport from 12 to 3. The allegations were that only companies that paid $5,000 to join The Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance, or HTA, were given the coveted slots. Those who did not were cut out of the most lucrative market in the city for cabs.

In our earlier report, Diamond Cab owner Obaid Khan said, "We feel like you shouldn’t have to pay to play. That’s exactly what took place at the airport."

Last night, Khan addressed the Charlotte City Council about another side of the controversy. 

Khan is just 23, and as he took the podium during the public comment section of the meeting, he sounded his age. He greeted the council by asking "How you guys doing today?"

Khan runs Diamond cab. It’s a family business.

Earlier, city spokesman Keith Richardson told reporters the controversial contract that limits the number of cab companies that can pick up passengers at the airport had been extended months ago. It would now run through June of 2015. It was set to expire on June 30 of this year. Khan was at the council to talk about the airport deal he and others owners say was rife with corruption. Khan wanted answers as to who extended the contract and why nobody was told.

Khan said Diamond cab, like other companies locked out of the airport is hemorrhaging money, it might be able to last another three months. Khan told the council people have to "man up." That it was time to fix mistakes.

The cab companies allege Patrick Cannon and Mohammad Jenatian, one of his allies, were behind the alleged pay-to-play scheme.  Mayor Dan Clodfelter, Cannon’s replacement, announced the city will investigate. "Several council members and I have asked the manager to give us a report on the contract issue and he is working on that. We’re taking a look at that internally as well and I hope to get some answers for all of us."

But Clodfelter stressed City Manager Ron Carlee’s investigation would have to be mindful of the federal investigation of Patrick Cannon.  It would only proceed if it didn’t interfere with federal authorities who are now pouring over years of just about any e-mail or other document involving the former mayor.

After public comments closed, the council went on with zoning and other business.  Mr. Carlee and the airport manager were seen leaving the council chamber. Then, more than an hour after Khan spoke, came a bit of a surprise.  Despite the city’s spokesman saying otherwise, Carlee said the contract has yet to be extended. Adding officials are now reviewing the contract "considering all the discussions that we've had".

Carlee blamed the media for the bad information. Reached after the meeting City spokesman Keith Richardson, blamed the contradiction on bad information he received from the airport.

Obied Khan doesn’t believe either of them. "The script did flip pretty quick." He added that if he hadn't brought it up the contract extension would have flown under the radar.

He’s hoping Diamond Cab and other companies can get access to the airport soon, before he’s forced to close down.

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.