The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission Tuesday received notices of impending resignations from two members but the panel appeared uncertain whether the two commissioners would continue to serve until replacements are named.
Interim Airport Manager Rick Adair announced his intent to resign from the airport commission after the Crow Wing County Board on Tuesday morning failed grant him a leave of absence from the commission. Adair, who replaced former Airport Manager Steve Sievek at 25 percent of Sievek’s salary said his major concern was the efficient management of the airport. Sievek was removed from his post Dec. 6. and retained in temporary post as construction coordinator at 75 percent of his former salary.
Nystrom said the county board’s failure to approve a leave of absence for Adair was nothing personal but was part of a continuing concern regarding potential conflict of interest issues related to the airport commission.
A resignation letter was received from commission member Brad Davis, who is moving out of town, The commission accepted his resignation with regret but discovered its bylaws stipulated that departing commissioners should serve until their replacements are named. Davis was appointed by the city of Brainerd.
Andy Larson, newly elected airport commission chair, said the status of the two resignations was “to be determined.”
Adair’s leave of absence request came up at Tuesday’s Crow Wing County Board meeting. Adair is one of the county appointed representatives for the Airport Commission. He requested a leave of absence through June 1 to serve as interim airport manager.
Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom, the board’s liaison to the Airport Commission, ran into a roadblock for her motion to approve Adair’s leave. Her motion died for a lack of a second.
Commissioner Paul Thiede said it was hard not to seem as though Adair was being singled out with a hesitation to approve the leave, but there may be a perception of a conflict. The Airport Commission supervises the airport manager. Thiede and Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said they’d be more comfortable if Adair resigned from the Airport Commission and be reappointed in three months. Thiede said he didn’t see why Adair wouldn’t resign as there was no requirement for the county to backfill Adair’s Airport Commission seat for the three or four months in question. Franzen said it wasn’t a reflection on Adair, but she’d be more comfortable with the move after the conflict of interest issues at the airport.
Nystrom said the result would be the same as with a leave.
Administrator Tim Houle said removal from the Airport Commission is typically through malfeasance and if Adair didn’t choose to resign, he wasn’t sure where that left the situation.
The board learned the city of Brainerd was interested in a joint meeting in early January to discuss the airport, which is jointly owned by the city and the county. Nystrom suggested the county ask for an agenda and look at dates in February.
The airport commission, for auditing purposes, set hourly rates for the positions currently held by Adair and Sievek. Sievek will be paid $29.291 per hour as temporary construction manager and Adair will be paid $9.974 an hour. The motion passed with a friendly amendment clarifying that Adair would be a salaried and not an hourly employee and that his compensation would not exceed 25 percent of the former airport manager’s salary. The motion setting the hourly rates passed unanimously with Davis absent and Adair not voting.
Adair said before the motion passed unanimously that the salary for his interim post was not important and if the panel wanted him to work at an hourly rate he would do so in an effort to deflect potential criticism that the commission was acting as a good old boys network.
Jeff Czeczok, a critic who has leveled that charge against the commission, said the panel created Sievek’s new position “out of thin air” and without any advertising. He also said the closed meeting on Dec. 6 where they removed Sievek from his post was improperly listed on the agenda and should have noted that disciplinary action could have been a part of the meeting.
“I know you don’t like to hear these things but I’m going to say them,” he said.
Larson countered that the commission was interested in hearing Czeczok’s opinions on this issue. The airport commission plans to receive training on conflict of interest policies and open meeting laws. Larson said the commission concurred that “our process should have been different.” Larson said the commission expects to learn more on open meeting laws and on the mechanism for closing meetings.
Beth Pfingsten, who was chair of the Dec. 6 meeting, said she apologized to the public for any inconvenience it may have caused if she handled the situation incorrectly. She said they were citizen/public servants who were willing to learn.
Czeczok said he perceived the situation as a violation of the open meeting law. He said he didn’t know whether he would pursue the matter and try to see that the commission was formally charged with a potential violation. Kevin Goedker, a Brainerd City Council and Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission member said he hopes that with legal counsel the commission will “make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
In other action the commission learned the first meeting of a steering committee for an upcoming barnstorming aviation celebration will be 2 p.m. Monday.
Adair said Great Lakes Airlines has been certified as an Essential Airport Service recipient but he has not received much more information from them or from the U.S. Department of Transportation. He said the airport will not be without commercial service with the expected switch from Delta Airline to Great Lakes.
The interim airport manager also said arrangements are being made to bring the display fighter aircraft which was painted in Park Rapids back to the airport, perhaps in the next two weeks.
A Business After Hours session is expected to be conducted at the newly remodeled airport terminal from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 14. The completion date for the remodeled terminal is expected to be Jan. 27.
A tour of the remodeled terminal will be conducted at 1 p.m. Jan. 18 for those who submitted proposals for art work and decorations for the terminal. This was the commission’s first meeting at the airport in a few months because of the remodeling.
The commission added Pfingsten to a budget and personnel committee that will also include the chair and the county and city representatives to the commission. That group will meet at 4 p.m. Jan. 12 to discuss upcoming negotiations on a union contract with employees.
An airport manager search committee will meet at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 23 in the administrator’s conference room at the Historic Crow Wing County Courthouse.
The commission appointed Pfingsten as vice chair of the airport commission. She previously had served as chair.
MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at 855-5860 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or email@example.com.