FAIRMONT - There's a difference of opinions about Fairmont airport's manager.
No one at the City Council meeting Monday was in favor of retaining Five Lakes Aviation (owned by Al Pelzer) to manage the airport, but since the city is not yet a year into a five-year contract, opinions varied on how and when to terminate the arrangement.
Back in April, the council gave 45 days for Five Lakes Aviation to address 11 specific areas of concern, including adhering to business hours, offering a flight training school, getting written work orders to city administration in a timely manner, and removing non-aviation materials from the airport.
Since then, Five Lakes Aviation has retained a lawyer, Steven Sunde of St. James, who met with City Attorney Elizabeth Bloomquist and City Administrator Mike Humpal on May 8 to discuss the city's concerns. At that time, city staff talked about reaching a mutually agreeable end to the current contract. The next day, Five Lakes Aviation expressed interest in a "buyout," to which the city clarified that the council did not want to make a financial settlement to terminate the contract.
City staff did suggest terminating the contract on Sept. 30, which would be the end of the first year of the five-year contract. Five Lakes Aviation has not yet responded.
According to Humpal, as of June 6, progress has been made on the list of concerns, but work remains. Humpal reported that cleanup has begun but isn't nearly complete; marketing or development of a flight school has not begun; and no work orders have been turned in.
According to documentation provided by Five Lakes Aviation, all 11 issues have been addressed.
"Going through all these, I see a lot of smoke and mirrors," Councilman Terry Anderson said Monday.
In his opinion, the city gave the airport manager plenty of time to make the necessary improvements, but he failed. By waiting until September to terminate the contract, Anderson believes the city will lose valuable time over the summer.
"I think they're a detriment to the airport," he said. "... Let them have their pay and allow us to start doing business with someone else."
The rest of the council was in favor of waiting to give the airport advisory board the opportunity to look into the matter. The board meets today, so the council will have its feedback at its next meeting on June 24.
"I'd feel more comfortable hearing their recommendation," said Councilman Joe Kallemeyn.
As city attorney, Bloomquist encouraged the council to seek a mutual agreement: "That way everybody gets what they want ... without going to court. If we can't get there cooperatively, we can get there the other way."
Another downside to terminating the contract immediately, she pointed out, would be the immediate need to find a replacement for Five Lakes Aviation.
Anderson said he knows of qualified pilots who are willing to step forward and manage the airport on an interim basis, while the hiring process is under way.
In other business Monday, city staff recommended again that the council not allow drag races at the airport, based on the negative response from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Under its agreement for state funding, the airport is only to be used for aviation-related purposes.
Fairmont's public works director, Troy Nemmers, also spoke with management in Spencer, Iowa, where drag races are held at the airport. Iowa's Department of Transportation does not seem to be as strict as MnDOT, and Spencer's airport is laid out in such a way that races can be held without interrupting operations.
The council directed staff to turn its research over to the car club, if the organization is interesting in pleading for its cause to federal and state regulators.
The council also took action Monday on the following items:
o Purchasing an outdoor siren system for $121,090. The new system is expected to be louder, so it will have a greater range for alerting residents of weather emergencies.
o Fixing Citizen Park's community clock, which does not work. The council agreed to pay about $2,070 to fix it, with residents Don and Sue Anderson and other donors pitching in $3,225. The total for replacing the timepiece with a digital system is $5,295.
o Authorizing the American Legion to dispense liquor in the area of First Street and Downtown Plaza during Interlaken Heritage Days. Wrist bands will be required to identify people 21 and older, but no orange fencing will be required as in year's past.
o Approved two solicitors licenses for Insulation USA and Tanel Kobrusepp, which sells educational books.
o Approved purchasing iPads for the City Council at a cost of $2,900, which includes software and cases. By switching to digital agendas, the iPads will save the city money on paper, as well as staff time. Annually, the city spends about $2,500 on paper for agendas.
Anderson voted against the iPads. He plans to use his laptop, since he does not want city staff to have ready access to his correspondence with citizens. According to the iPad agreement the council is required to sign, city staff can access that information at any time. The same is true now of the council's communications, which is considered public information.
o Awarded a contract for resurfacing portions of Cardinal Street, Cedar Park Road, Roland Avenue and Southwood Drive. The low bidder was M.R. Paving & Excavating, Inc., out of New Ulm with $536,935.