Bob Olson’s blustery city politics went too far this week. The longtime Brainerd City Council member said he would write federal and state officials requesting an investigation relating to alleged flight safety issues at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.
Olson knew he’d make headlines on a topic that has consumed much of his attention lately — the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport. Olson voted against the reappointment of Airport Commissioner Doug Kuepers, who has been under fire from critics for what they see as a conflict of interest because his construction firm was hired to serve as an on-site manager for an airport remodeling project. Kuepers Inc. was chosen by an engineering firm that was hired by the commission to supervise the project.
On the same day Olson gave the Brainerd Dispatch a memo calling for an investigation into flight safety he also delivered a guest column (published Wednesday) criticizing Kuepers for a conflict of interest and demanding he either step down from the commission or have his firm give up the on-site construction manager job.
In his call for a safety probe he said he would write Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., the Minnesota FAA Division, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd; and Rep. Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls. Olson copied his memo to the city administrator, the city attorney and the Crow Wing County administrator. There was no notation that he sent the information on airport safety to either the airport manager or the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission.
All of this might very well raise alarm on the part of the many families and business people who use the Brainerd airport everyday. Safety is the first priority of any airport.
The only trouble is Olson’s entire rationale for raising such commotion is one anonymous letter. Beyond that anonymous letter, Olson offered no evidence at all of any safety problems. The anonymous letter, which he provided copies of, praised Olson for efforts to investigate the airport and complimented the facility’s lighting and runways. The letter said radar coverage was poor and there was no air traffic control.
Airport Manager Steve Sievek said the Federal Aviation Administration inspects the airport annually and has never reported any safety concerns.
The anonymous correspondence questioned the aviation background of commission members, the recent reappointment of Kuepers, echoed Olson’s concern about a conflict of interest and intimated that a “Good Old Boys’ Club” held sway.
In his page-long memo, Olson made his most salient point in the second sentence.
“It should be safe to say that none of us elected officials are in a position to make a decision or judgment call on what is needed for flight safety at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport,” he wrote.
He should have quit there.
To raise such a ruckus questioning aviation safety at our airport based on one anonymous letter is reckless and irresponsible. Questions about safety are serious and should be immediately brought to the attention of the airport manager and the commission.