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Carlee Says State Lawmakers Had 'Racial Motivations' In Airport Fight

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GRANT BALDWIN PHOTOGRAPHY
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Ron Carlee, pictured at a WFAE Public Conversation in 2013.

Former Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee says state lawmakers had racial motivations in 2013 when they tried to transfer control of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport from the city to a regional authority.

Speaking Wednesday on Charlotte Talks, Carlee told host Mike Collins that he believes the General Assembly was trying to undermine then-Mayor Anthony Foxx, who is African-American.

"People in the General Assembly get rabidly angry when you say this, but I think some of it was racially motivated," he said, "Now, they will vehemently deny that, and will be very incensed that I said it, and I’ve been meetings where it was actually discussed openly, and they will say that was not true. I think there’s a significant race overlay on the conflicts between the representation of our council and the representation in Raleigh."

Carlee, who retired this month, became city manager in early 2013 and soon became of the city's fiercest advocates of maintaining local control of the airport. His viewed clashed with then-aviation director Jerry Orr, who supported legislative efforts to move control to a regional authority.

"I think (an airport authority) takes a lot of the unnecessary motions out of getting things done, and allows us to operate more like a business," Orr told WFAE in April 2013.

By "unnecessary motions," Orr said he was referring to "all the time and effort it takes to get all the approvals to do simple things" like purchase equipment.

Orr also clashed with Carlee's predecessor, Curt Walton. There were reports that Walton had demanded Orr resign or retire. Orr made clear he didn't like it when Walton had CMPD take over policing at the airport, nor his decision to transfer some airport IT functions to city hall. Orr ran the airport for 25 years, and had become synonymous with its success. He left in July 2013 after losing a power struggle with Carlee.

Lawmakers ultimately passed legislation to give the state more power over the airport through an appointed commission, but control of the airport has not changed.

A judge ruled in 2014 that only the FAA can determine who runs the airport. Meanwhile, the FAA says it's up to the court and the city.