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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Menominee May Go To Court Over Airport Commission Appointment

Planes continue to fly in and out of Twin County Airport in Menominee but it appears management functions handled by Airport Commission will remain on hold until a dispute between Marinette and Menominee counties over seating of Garry Anderson as the third representative of Menominee County is settled.

Anderson, a former chair of the Airport Commission, was appointed by a 7 to 2 vote of Menominee County Board on June 2 to fill a vacancy created when Commission Chair Jason Lauzer resigned to accept employment in another state.

Anderson’s previous term on the Commission was marked by controversy, and ended late in 2010, when his service on the Menominee County Board was ended by a recall election in his district.

On Tuesday, July 15, the monthly Airport Commission meeting was halted abruptly, with most of its business left undone, when the two remaining Menominee County commissioners, Charlie Meintz and Chris Plutchak, walked out. Their departure came after a a motion to seat Anderson failed by 3 to 2 vote. Meintz and Plutchak both declared they did not want their county to continue being under-represented on the Commission.

With only the three Marinette County Commissioners remaining there was no quorum to continue business, and Nick Lakari, acting chair since Lauzer’s departure, declared the meeting adjourned.

By a 6 to 2 vote at a special meeting on Friday, July 18, Menominee County Board authorized Dan Hass, its Prosecuting Attorney, to file a legal action to resolve the issue. Commissioners Bernie Lang and Gerald Piche voted against the motion and James Furlong was absent and excused.

Hass said if the Airport Commission does not get the issue settled he will seek a writ of mandamus, described as, “an extraordinary writ commanding an official to perform a ministerial act that the law recognizes as an absolute duty and not a matter for the official’s discretion and used only when all other judicial remedies fail.”

Hass told Menominee County Board the issue was not whether they liked Anderson or not, it was about their right to have the person they choose seated on the Commission. He expressed belief that the issue of Anderson’s hangar ownership and conflict of interest had been resolved.

There is no indication that the Marinette County Commissioners plan to yield on the issue, and as of Monday, July 21, no move had been made toward settlement. Lakari and Supervisor Ted Sauve, Marinette County Board’s representatives on the Commission along with at-large representative Mary Johns, apparently continue to disagree with Hass and the Menominee County Board.

On Monday, July 21, Lakari asked Sauve, a long-time member of both the County Board and the Airport Commission, to help him with the report he generally makes to Marinette County Board’s Economic Development Committee on Airport Commission activities.

Sauve said the person Menominee County Board appointed (Anderson) had a conflict of interest related to his hangar ownership and lease of space on the airport for it.

“The only thing we are strong about is playing by the rules and being in compliance,” he stressed. “I’ve been involved in government for over 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything like that!” Sauve declared when describing the Menominee County Commissioners departure from the meeting.

Sauve then explained the Menominee County Board met last Friday and told their attorney to initiate legal action against the Twin County Airport Commission. Sauve disagreed with Hass’ opinion that all requirements had been met in regard to Anderson’s disposal of his hangar and lease of the site at Twin County Airport, and said the Airport Commission has to follow its own rules.

“Nick did a masterful job of controlling the meeting last Tuesday,” Sauve concluded.

Lakari told the Marinette Co. Economic Development Committee when Anderson’s appointment was presented to Menominee County Board on June 10 he admitted he had a conflict of interest. He said there was an affidavit of sale for the hangar filed in Menominee County offices on June 24.

The Commission agenda for its June 17 meeting listed Anderson’s appointment as an “information only” item, which “in my experience means we could not take a vote.” Nonetheless, he said, one of the Menominee Commissioners attempted a motion. “I did not acknowledge that motion, so I became the bad guy,” Lakari declared. He said a week later the Commission received the information that the affidavit of sale had been recorded.

However, he said, the lease also needs to be transferred to someone else, and Twin County rules say the lessor must provide, in writing, information that the lease has been transferred.

For last week’s Twin County meeting, seating of Anderson was an action item on the agenda, and despite being told the proper documentation was still lacking, “Menominee County insisted on putting a motion on the floor.”

“Ted made it very clear he would not support this...I think he was sending a message to the Commission,” Lakari added.

He said when the two Menominee County Commissioners walked out there were only three Commissioners left, and they need four for a quorum. “There were important topics on the agenda that didn’t get resolved,” he said, and read the list, which included payment of bills, discussion and possible action on a by-laws change that would allow Commissioners to participate by teleconference, distributing rules governing employee suspension and work rule policy changes approved by Commissioners on June 17, report from the Airport Executive Committee on budget work, the airport’s 10-year capital improvement plan, and the airport manager’s request for compensatory time off for holidays, and financial and air traffic reports.

Lakari said he and Sauve make up the Airport Executive Committee, and they were ready to present the 2015 proposed budget. With the quorum gone, that did not happen. “We couldn’t approve checks totaling over $70,000 (to pay bills), and the 10-year capital improvement plan was not adopted.

“In addition to the difficulties with the appointment itself, this dispute has boiled over into day to day activities of the Commission,” Lakari declared.

After the meeting, Sauve said some accounts may need to be notified that payment of their bills will be delayed until the appointment issue is settled, but employees will continue to receive their regular paychecks, as that was authorized in a previous action.

Sauve said regulations of the FAA and Michigan DOT have some very specific rules for airport operations, and expressed hope this dispute will not cause problems with the agencies.

“The airport is essential to our economy,” Marinette County Supervisor Al Mans, a member of Economic Development Committee, commented. He asked what is happening with a pending Bureau of Aeronautics order to shorten one of the existing runways, and Lakari said that is in the hands of the Meade and Hunt engineering firm.

Mans asked Lakari if he felt they would be successful in retaining the 6,000 foot runway, but Lakari refused to speculate. Sauve noted that runway is the second longest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, second only to the K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base.

Sauve said the longer runway is important to Marinette/Menominee industries, particularly Marinette Marine, because of visits from top Naval officials, and if funding for that runway is cut, the airport’s ability to serve the larger plans for local industries will be impacted.

Lakari said he is excited about some of the prospects for future airport use identified in the Explorer Solutions studies, but is unable to say more due to non-disclosure agreements. He said there was a tentative meeting scheduled of the Commission with Explorer Solutions representatives and others on Wednesday, July 30 to discuss those possibilities.

In other business of the Economic Development Committee, Wisconsin Public Service community development representative Carol Karls said the governor’s office has lifted a moratorium on tax credits for state historic sites, which is good news, and on the state level a Tax Increment Financing Committee has been formed to review TIF legislation and clean up some of the rules that have evolved over the years. Wisconsin Economic Development Association has nominated people to serve on that committee.

Mans agreed cleaning up is probably required. He said over the years, TIF requirements have become so complicated that most cities need to hire a company just to help them jump through the hoops.

Supervisor Shirley Kaufman, in regard to mention of the “Main Street” program, said Marinette no longer has a downtown.

MCABI Administrator Ann Hartnell said she can get a WEDEC person to come up and talk about how communities can get help to re-establish a downtown, and Jennifer Garner of Rural Development would also help.

Kaufman said she certainly would like to see Marinette’s downtown revitalized. Karls noted Marinette was a Main Street community back in the 1990s.

Hartnell said at one time shopping was vibrant in the Marinette area, but now the retail is diminishing so that people who live here drive 40 to 60 miles for shopping, recreation and sports activities. She noted Niagara also has almost no retail business left.

MCABI is seeking an educator to fill the position on the Board vacated by former Wausaukee School District Administrator Jan Dooley.

Hartnell said employment growth at Marinette Marine continues to exceed expectations, and there are currently five ships in various stages of construction. She said the number of Naval personnel in Marinette will almost double in 2015, which boosts the area economy. She said even if not all the LCS contracts come through, their employment will exceed 1,500.

Anchor Coupling brought 40 families to view the area with an eye to transferring here when their production moves to Menominee.

Tourism Coordinator Butch Kostreva reported he is working with Bay Cities Interactive to redo the county’s “realnorth.com” website. He presented information on the difficulty of trying to accomplish all he would like to do in the 23 hours a week allocated for his job and expressed hope County Board will see fit to add more hours in the next budget.

He said tourism people from other counties he has talked with wish they had the assets of Marinette County to promote.

The Alliance’s Research Committee is looking into staffing and financing of other tourism offices in the state.

Lakari suggested it would help Kostreva if the Alliance handled more of its own clerical responsibilities, and if he were not required to attend its committee meetings.


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