Airport sparks concern

FAIRMONT – Rarely has the municipal airport been the focus of such lengthy discussions among Fairmont City Council as took place Monday.

Brought into question was the potential termination of airport manager Al Pelzer, as well as drag races at the airport and a consultant contract with Bolton & Menk.

Included in the council agenda for Monday’s meeting was a list of 11 items that City Administrator Mike Humpal plans to discuss with Five Lakes Aviation. The city is giving the company until June 15 to come into compliance.

Concerns on the list include:

o Adhering to the hours of business required in the FBO – fixed base operator – agreement with the city.

o Marketing and developing flight training, including ground school.

o Employing an adequate number of workers to service the airport customer base.

o Improving the conduct, demeanor and professionalism of management and employees.

o Ensuring that the airport is in compliance at all times with federal, state and local rules.

o Keeping the premises in good condition and getting written work orders to the city administrator in a timely manner.

o Providing a certificate of insurance.

o Removing all non-aviation business or business materials from airport grounds.

o Cleaning up and removing debris and unsightly storage of non-aviation material.

o Providing a list of each person or entity that keeps a plane at the airport, along with the hangar number, location and monthly rental amount.

o Ensuring no hangar tenants are storing non-aviation related equipment in their hangars.

The list was compiled based on complaints from customers and elected officials about airport management, several of which were mentioned Monday before the council by disgruntled airport tenants – past and present.

Pelzer was invited to the meeting but did not attend.

There were numerous failures on Pelzer’s part, as cited by the tenants, including him allegedly losing rent checks and repeatedly sending out incorrect invoices, as well as alleged maintenance neglect and two separate times when Pelzer was caught burning materials at the airport – he was fined for the most recent fire last year.

Another concern is that Pelzer may still be running his personal business – A & J Dock Service – out of the airport, for which he has been reprimanded in the past.

But all these complaints still might not be enough, legally speaking, to terminate Five Lakes Aviation’s contract.

“The situation we have here is we have two different contracts. For the FBO contract … the city has leased the facility to him to run. From what these people have said here tonight, he’s not doing a particularly good job, but that’s his business that he’s running into the ground,” said City Attorney Elizabeth Bloomquist.

Under the FBO contract, she could see only three reasons to terminate Five Lakes Aviation: If Pelzer failed to pay rent, if he didn’t have insurance, or if did not perform required services.

Even if he was still running A & J Dock Service out of the airport, a direct violation of FAA rules, it wouldn’t be enough for the city to terminate the contract, Bloomquist said, explaining that the Federal Aviation Administration would have to take action against Pelzer so that he could not continue to run Five Lakes Aviation.

“Clearly then, the FBO contract would be terminated,” she said.

It would, however, be easier to fault Pelzer for failure of his maintenance agreement with the city.

Councilman Terry Anderson was adamant that the council should ask Pelzer to move on, as soon as possible.

“This man has violated his maintenance agreement. I personally think he has taken the good name of Fairmont and I think he has run it into the ground. He’s supposed to represent us. There’s a lot of wealthy people who come into that airport and their first impression is what?” Anderson said.

He also questioned if whoever was associated with the airport board at the time of the most recent contract violated trust, drawing objections from Councilman Joe Kallemeyn, who was the airport liaison, and Mayor Randy Quiring, who defended city staff and airport board members past and present.

If the council does decide to seek a new fixed base operator for the airport, the search would be across Minnesota and into neighboring states.

“We would have to do some things on an interim basis to go without an FBO, but it would not impossible,” Humpal said.

Should the issues presented to Pelzer not be remedied by the June 15 deadline, city staff will then negotiate a settlement to legally terminate the contract.

“If you terminate for a bad reason … he could sue the city for the balance of the contract. If it’s for a good reason, and done in a good way, we don’t owe him anything,” Bloomquist said.

In other airport business, staff said the FAA and Minnesota Department of Transportation will not allow Fairmont to hold drag races at the airport, and to do so anyway could jeopardize grant money. The council directed staff to discuss with other cities, including Estherville, Iowa, how they have managed to hold drag races at their airports. Council members also clarified to staff that they do not want to shut down the entire airport, but simply want to use a few hundred feet for the races, which should still allow pilots use of the airport.

The council also approved renewing its consultant contract with Bolton & Menk on Monday. The airport board previously recommended a five-year contract with a St. Paul-based engineering firm, but later changed its recommendation to a shorter contract, through October 2014, with Bolton & Menk. A list is being compiled of problems with previous projects for Bolton & Menk to fix before its new contract runs out.