Charlotte to perform audit after questionable airport deals uncovered

by: Jim Bradley Updated:


CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The city of Charlotte said it will begin a top to bottom audit of airport finances.

The move comes during a tense legal battle over whether the city or a new airport commission should run the airport.

Hundreds of pages of documents, many stretching back to the 1990s, spell out what an assistant city attorney calls "inconvenient situations."

They are details surrounding questionable deals between the city of Charlotte and the airport that Channel 9 began asking about weeks ago.

Channel 9 asked City Manager, Ron Carlee, if he found some issues with the way things have been done.

"Yeah, we have found some issues," Carlee said.

The biggest of those issues surrounds the Police Department's Animal Care and Control Center.

Internal memos Channel 9 obtained reveal the city built the facility on airport property in 1992 only after taking a $3 million loan from airport revenues.

"Do you think airport revenue, to the tune of $3 million, should have been sued to build that facility for the city?" Channel 9 reporter Jim Bradley asked Carlee.

"If it were appropriately documented and approved by the FAA," he said.

But Channel 9 learned not only did the city fail to accurately report the loan to the Federal Aviation Administration, as it was supposed to, but 21 years later, the city has never repaid the loan.

After recently reviewing the deal, senior city attorney Leila Lahbabbi said, "Using the airport fund as a bank to loan money to the (city's) general fund is legally improper."

State Rep. Bob Rucho, who has been pushing for a new airport commission, told Channel 9 from Raleigh Monday it's just what he's been complaining about.

"It may have happened a number of years back and the question is, is it getting worse now that they really have the opportunity to dig into the piggy bank?" Rucho said.

Documents Channel 9 requested from the city show two other instances of unpaid loans, underpaid rent or unreported information to the FAA.

On Monday afternoon, the city held a news conference to announce a top-to-bottom audit of airport finances.

"We will make full disclosure and we will take whatever corrective action is necessary," Carlee said.

The questionable deals highlighted in the documents all came during Jerry Orr's tenure as aviation director, but Carlee insisted he found no intentional wrongdoing on Orr's part.

The audit of airport finances is expected to run past the first of the year.