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City Council reassures Airport Commission members that service they provideis of value

WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council members attending a work session Wednesday evening reassured members of the Airport Commission that the commission is necessary and that members' service is valuable.

Mayor Les Heitke said the purpose of the work session was to discuss whether the city needs the commission and if so, how often should the commission meet and what does the council want the commission to do.

City ordinance, codified in 1998, said the commission was responsible for daily airport operations and maintenance. In addition, the commission worked with city staff during construction of the new airport.

In 2006, city ordinance changed the commission's responsibility to more of an advisory role when the position of airport manager was created.

Since 2006, three of the seven commission seats haven't been filled and the commission has not met since November 2007 because members were told they didn't have a quorum needed to meet, according to commission members attending the work session.

In addition, the city's second airport manager, Melissa Galvan, resigned to take a position in Bismarck, N.D. City Administrator Michael Schmit has delayed deciding whether the airport manager's job will be filled by a part-time person who also works in the city engineering department until the state resolves its budget deficit problem and possible funding cuts to local governments.

Council member Doug Reese said it makes sense to have the Airport Commission if a manager isn't hired to help promote and recommend airport use and activities.

Council member Denis Anderson complimented the Airport Commission for its work on the new airport and he said the commission can be beneficial in working with the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission in offering guidance and developing airport-related businesses.

Ron Christianson said the council would not be discussing the commission if all of the vacant positions had been filled.

"We are a regional airport. If the EDC is working on increasing airport use, they need someone to talk to,'' he said.

Council member Steve Gardner asked why the commission had not met since it had a quorum with four members. Also, he suggested the commission in the future study the possibility of hiring a consultant on an hourly basis to manage the airport and work with the commission.

Commission member Arnie Plowman said the commission worked well with Galvan, but she said the commission didn't have a quorum and meetings were cancelled.

"I think we should have pursued the matter,'' he said, but added there weren't any large and pressing issues facing the airport.

Commissioner Steve Nedrelow said the issue of the quorum may have resulted from a misunderstanding.

Because the economy is in a downturn, Plowman said the biggest concern today is maintaining the use of the airport.

Council member Bruce DeBlieck said the Airport Commission is needed to oversee airport management and promotion, and said a manager was needed to handle management issues and look for sources of funding. Reese said he did not see why the commission should not exist; it was a matter of filling the positions. He said the airport is a "sterling community asset'' and said the commission was needed "to make sure things are taken care of.''

Commission members serve three-year terms. Anderson urged council members to recommend the names of individuals who would want to serve on the commission.

After the one-hour work session adjourned, Plowman said he was pleased with council comments.

"I agree with the council that the Airport Commission serves a very valuable purpose and can be a good promoter of the airport as well as a protector of the taxpayers' money, so I'm pleased with the City Council's perspective,'' he said.