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Issue lands in commission’s lap

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Brainerd Dispatch
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Issue lands in commission’s lap
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

The Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport manager on Tuesday said he would recommend the airport commission follow the opinion of the Brainerd city attorney regarding a conflict of interest issue with one of the commission’s members. 

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The Brainerd City Council on Monday addressed the conflict of interest after receiving City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick’s opinion and recommendations, but three motions for council action were defeated.

Airport Manager Steve Sievek said he was disappointed the council didn’t take action Monday regarding the conflict of interest of commissioner Doug Kuepers. Sievek said it was his intention to recommend to the airport commission that they adopt Fitzpatrick’s recommendations and move forward on a conflict of interest policy. 

Kuepers’ conflict of interest involves his company, Kuepers Inc., builders and architects, being hired as on-site manager of the airport remodeling project by Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc., whom the airport commission hired as a consulting engineer for the project. The airport is jointly owned by the city and Crow Wing County.

Fitzpatrick’s recommendations, offered to the Brainerd City Council on Monday, were for the airport commission to unanimously vote on a resolution setting out the essential facts and that the Kuepers Inc. contract price is as low or lower than the price at which the services could be obtained elsewhere; and for Kuepers to file an affidavit with the commission regarding his company’s work. Those actions would satisfy exceptions allowed under state statute regarding conflict of interest, Fitzpatrick said.

With no direction from the city council, the issue now appears to be in the hands of the airport commissioners. The Crow Wing County Board last week discussed handling the issue if the Brainerd council was unable to resolve it.

Sievek said if there was a mistake made that led to a conflict of interest it was done innocently and the airport commission needs a process in place to make sure it didn’t happen again.

“I was hopeful the city council would have given us the guidance by motion requesting we do that, to put closure to it on their end,” Sievek said. “That didn’t happen but it doesn’t mean we can’t do the right thing.”

Airport commissioner member Brad Davis said he would like to see Fitzpatrick’s recommendations adopted by the commission “so we could get back on track with the city and state requirements and move ahead.”

Davis said there’s been discussion of setting a special meeting to do that, but as of Tuesday night no meeting had been set. 

Commission Chairwoman Beth Pfingsten declined to comment because she was out of town and hadn’t had a chance to review the council’s actions. 

Kuepers could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon. Council member Kevin Goedker, who serves as the council’s liaison to the airport commission, also could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Brainerd’s marathon city council meeting on Monday ended with a third attempt to settle the conflict of interest controversy surrounding the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport. 

Just before midnight, council member Kelly Bevans made a motion to rescind the appointment of Doug Kuepers to the airport commission. 

Fitzpatrick informed the council that to rescind an commission appointment, the council needed two-thirds of its members voting affirmative. 

Like two previous motions made Monday about the issue, Bevans’ motion failed, garnering only a four-vote simple majority and not the five votes needed. 

“So we have nothing to offer,” council President Mary Koep said following the roll call vote of council members. 

“I thought I’d try,” said Bevans, who earlier in the meeting said the council should handle the issue Monday and council members should do what was right for the city. 

The two other motions considered by the council were to ask Kuepers to resign from the commission and to pass along recommendations by Fitzpatrick to the airport commission that would correct the conflict of interest retroactively. Both motions failed.

MATT ERICKSON may be reached at matt.erickson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5857.

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