Thursday, March 08, 2012

Airport commission: Need for legal counsel debated

Jeff Czeczok of Brainerd, who went from outside critic to the newest member of the Brainerd Regional Airport Commission after his appointment to the panel in January, on Tuesday decried the commission’s payments to a legal counsel as a waste of money.

He said the commission’s payment for attorney Dyan Ebert’s review of data practices requests could possibly be handled by the office of the Crow Wing County attorney. The county and city of Brainerd jointly own the airport.

Czeczok cast the sole no vote when the commission voted to pay bills. Commission member Howard Pihlaja was absent. Commission member and Brainerd City Council member Kevin Goedker had to leave before that vote was taken.

In January, commission Chair Andy Larson said the panel decided to hire an attorney in order to get ongoing, consistent legal advice. At Tuesday’s meeting he said the city had temporarily raised the possibility of withholding its airport funding and he had received advice from the city and county attorneys that the commission might want to retain its own counsel.

Before his appointment to the commission Czeczok was among those citizens who had sought information from the commission regarding a conflict of interest issue.

Airport Commissioner Beth Pfingsten said she would meet with Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan to see what sort of legal assistance might be provided at no cost. She said Ryan had earlier indicated that while his office might be able to provide some help he would not attempt to provide any legal advice regarding aviation law.

Rachel Reabe Nystrom, a county board and airport commission member, told Czeczok that the staff of the county attorney is fully engaged in a variety of legal cases and any additional requests for the time of those lawyers could cost the county money.

“It does cost somebody something,” she said. “Free is not free.”

The commission heard a presentation from Ed Hall, who has suggested an alternative method to hiring an airport manager could be to hire him on a contract basis.

Hall said he had more than 40 years experience in military, commercial and civilian aviation. He suggested that he could serve on a contract basis for a period of about three years while the commission conducted a vetting process in its search for an airport manager.

One of the goals he would set, if hired, would be to gauge any possible interest by Vision Airlines in Georgia to provide scheduled service to the Brainerd airport. He also suggested a “complete operational audit and reorganization plan.” Hall said he would emphasize a culture of safety if he were running the airport.

Responding to Hall’s stated alarm at the quick pace of the hiring process for a new airport manager, Pfingsten said it was not a rush but was a six-month process.

Larson noted the commission’s goal to hire an airport manager by June 1 is flexible.

“If we go to July, we go to July,” he said. “If we go to August, we go to August.”

The commission unanimously approved a $2,500 budget for advertising for the new airport manager.

Plans call for the ads to be published in the Brainerd Dispatch, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and selected trade publications. In addition, about 20 universities and colleges that offered aviation programs will be contacted.

Commission members authorized the interim airport manager to complete work on the ad copy, job description and employment application for the airport manager’s position.

Interim Airport Manager Rick Adair said he had not yet heard anything from Great Lakes Aviation, the firm which was awarded the right to provide service to Brainerd in the wake of Delta Airlines’ announcement that it will eventually cease its operation at the airport.

In other action, the commission:

Approved a contract amendment for a change order amounting to an additional $4,500 for the engineering firm of Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH), the engineering firm involved with the recent remodeling of the airport terminal. Joel Dresel of SEH said the money was for soil testing work that took considerably longer than anticipated. He said he thought it was fair to pay the extra money to the soil testers.

Agreed to a total budget of $45,000 over three years to spend on interior decorating of the airport.

Heard Pfingsten ask the city council and county board representatives on the commission to share highlights of the monthly commission meeting with their respective political entities. Bowen also expressed her hope that the Minnesota Legislature approves setting aside undeveloped land north of the airport for a refuge.

“That land should not be developed into residential areas,” she said.

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