City must decide future of Willmar Airport management

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WILLMAR — The Willmar Municipal Airport is losing one of its champions as city planner and airport manager Megan DeSchepper has resigned, leaving the city at a crossroads regarding the management of the airport.

"Historically, the airport did operate with a manager," said Bruce Peterson, planning and development director, during Monday's meeting of the Willmar City Council. "It is important the city look at a couple of different options."

DeSchepper took over as the airport manager, in addition to her city planner duties, in 2010.

"We have a better airport today because of your vision and your leadership in that area," Mayor Marv Calvin said as the city and council on Monday night recognized DeSchepper for her years of service to Willmar.

City Administrator Ike Holland wants to advertise for a full-time airport manager as a first step toward deciding which direction the city wants to go.

"Look at what kind of applicants we get, what kind of experience," Holland said.

Another option is to contract with the current fixed-base operators at the airport — Eric Rudningen and Paul Beck of Oasis Aero Inc. — to take over most of the management responsibilities at the airport. Rudningen is already contracted with the city to do the physical maintenance and operations at the airport.

"I think they are doing a fantastic job and I think they are a very reliable outfit. We are trending positively," said Councilor Andrew Plowman, who also sits on the Airport Commission.

Holland said he usually supports having an airport manager because they have a vested interest in the airport improving and expanding. However, after meeting with Willmar's fixed-base operators, he said he has changed his way of thinking a bit.

"They have a financial interest in making that airport succeed," Holland said, adding those with a financial stake in something usually work even harder to make things happen.

Since this time of the year is usually slow at the airport, Holland and Peterson both said there is no immediate rush to make a decision, as airport and city staff should be able to handle what comes up.

"We will make it through this transition period," Peterson said.

The council backed Holland's plan to advertise for an airport manager while continuing to have discussions about the airport's future.

"We have an active airport, we have a rather large airport. We should not overlook that. It deserves the attention of the council," Peterson said.

The council will also need to decide whether to hire a new city planner to replace DeSchepper, who started with the city 15 years ago when the planner position was created.

"She was the first and only person to hold the position of staff planner with the city of Willmar. I think she has set a standard that will be difficult for future employees to match," Peterson said.

DeSchepper's last day with the city is Friday. She has accepted a position with the Minnesota Department of Transportation as a senior planner for District 8, which is based in Willmar.

"We are sorry to lose Megan, but I'm always supportive of people moving up in their career," Holland said.