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GUEST COLUMN: False accusations unwarranted

While it is not my job to defend my employers, I cannot remain silent any longer as this charade continues. I am Steve Sievek, the manager of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport for the past 17 years. I also served as a Crow Wing County commissioner for eight years prior to that, also serving on the Airport Commission as the county representative. Never in that time have I witnessed such a witch hunt and character assassination done with total disrespect and outright meanness that Doug Kuepers is being subjected to, along with the Commission. Yes, Doug Kuepers is an Airport Commission member and yes, his firm is serving as the onsite construction manager. His company was selected from a field of four and is under contract with SEH, the Airport’s consulting engineer. The Airport Commission had no part in that process other than to make it clear that contractors who intended to bid on the project as a general contractor could not submit a proposal to also be the construction manager. The overall construction management contract with SEH includes subcontracts with several disciplines including Dunham & Associates for mechanical and electrical, Architectural Alliance for design, and Kuepers Construction for onsite manager.

I can assure you that none of the Airport Commission members, nor myself, saw this hands off private enterprise arrangement as a conflict of interest in any way and therefore, did not ask for any legal opinion. The subject was never raised. Doug Kuepers announced his intention to submit a proposal to SEH and abstained from the vote regarding their contract. The minutes from that meeting, which I sign and take full responsibility for, did not reflect the reason for the abstention. Since 1996, the Commission minutes have reflected only actions taken, very little discussion and rarely individual votes. 

Today we are faced with a difference of opinion on an alleged conflict of interest. Are those opinions based on reality or perception? I guess we’ll find out when the City Attorney renders his opinion. False accusations of deceit, cover up, cronyism, money funneling, favoritism and payback are completely unwarranted. The Airport Commission is of the highest integrity and we do all our business on top of the table There was absolutely no attempt to conceal Mr. Kuepers’ involvement. In fact, this paper published a story the week of Nov. 1, 2010 when the project had just started that clearly identified Kuepers Construction as the onsite project manager. In addition, a  Nov. 3, 2010 press release from the Airport Commission chair was distributed to all area media. Published, public knowledge from the very beginning. It’s a little more than coincidence that the issue has been raised after Mr. Kuepers reappointment to the Commission. Now six months into the project we have an issue? Could it be because a candidate for Mr. Kueper’s Commission seat was passed over? Believe me, there is a less than hidden agenda here. Perhaps these proceedings provide insight into the council’s struggle on occasion to fill vacant committee slots. Good, successful and progressive thinking business people who should be involved in community leadership just don’t want to stand in line to be thrown under the bus. 

I’ve had the privilege of working with many different Commission members over the years. All have been dedicated, progressive and forward thinking members with a passion for the airport and a vision for its future. The airport is the gateway to this community and I am very proud of how far we’ve come over the years. Our facility and its operation take a back seat to none in outstate Minnesota and that’s a credit to those who serve on the Commission.

STEVE SIEVEK is manager of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport.