Strong opinions are found on either side of the question of whether Doug Kuepers has a conflict of interest in his dual roles as a member of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission and president of Kuepers Inc. Architects and Builders.
Kuepers’ firm has been hired as the airport’s on-site manager by SEH Inc. SEH Inc. is the firm the airport commission hired as the consulting engineer on the project.
We’ll be interested in Brainerd City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick’s opinion, which is expected to be ready by May 2. The longtime city attorney has already contacted the state attorney general’s office and the League of Minnesota Cities in his efforts to determine the correct answer.
One point which is clear to us is that there’s a crying need for the airport commission and any other governing board to have a formal, written conflict of interest policy for members. We know certain nonprofit boards have such policies and some even require members to sign a statement stating any potential conflicts they might have. Transparency should be a top priority for councils, county boards and commissions. We’d even suggest that when a panel member abstains because of a conflict of interest that the member state the reason for the abstention and that it be noted in the minutes.
Adopting a formal conflict of interest policy would be a helpful guide for new members . It would give them a policy to point to if they were ever questioned about why they made a certain vote. Also, it could be revised as new situations came up.
It’s impossible, particularly in a small town, to find a knowledgeable, community-oriented person to serve on a board who has absolutely no potential for conflict of interest. Still, the adoption of a conflict of interest policy can go a long way toward avoiding problematic situations such as the one the airport commission and the city council are wrestling with now.