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Airport commission rejects manager finalists

Citing the absence of a “wow” reaction, the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Commission Friday rejected the two airport manager finalists it interviewed this month.

The two candidates were Neil A. Ralston of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Willard Turner of El Centro, Calif.

“Neither of them wowed me enough to make an offer at this point,” Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek, a member of the commission’s airport manager search committee, said.

Howard Pihlaja, a retired pilot and a member of the search committee, concurred, stating both candidates had shortcomings.

“I would not feel comfortable recommending either of those candidates,” he said.

The commission voted unanimously to inform the two finalists they would not be offered a job. Brainerd City Council member Kevin Goedker, an airport commission member, was not at Friday’s meeting.

Commission members thanked the search committee for its recommendation and for its work.

Commissioner Don Jacobson said he was looking for a strong leader and he “didn’t see that in either one.”

Commissioner Beth Pfingsten said she had been frustrated because she had hoped a clear choice would surface after the interviews.

The airport manager search committee will meet at 8:15 a.m. Sept. 6 after reviewing the top eight of the remaining applications and either report on potential candidates or indicate it had no candidates from the current pool.

Commission members discussed the selection process, noting advertisements were sent to 10 universities with strong aviation programs and to those schools’ alumni organizations; the American Association of Airport Executives; the Star Tribune and the Brainerd Dispatch.

Applications were received from a wide range of states including Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Oklahoma.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860