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Lakari, Johns Resign Twin County Airport Positions, Judge Rules Anderson On

The balance of power on Twin County Airport Commission switched abruptly Friday, Aug. 8, when two of the three Marinette County Commissioners resigned and Menominee Circuit Court Judge Richard Celello issued a ruling that seats Garry Anderson as Menominee County’s third member of the airport’s governing body. Supervisor Ted Sauve is now Marinette County’s only representative on the Commission.

Meanwhile, no commission business has been conducted since June. The regular monthly meeting on July 14 ended without a quorum after Menominee County Commissioners Charlie Meintz and Chris Plutchak walked out after a motion to seat Anderson was defeated, 3 to 2.

Neither of the two Menominee Commissioners attended the Friday noon meeting, so it too ended without action, except that Marinette County Supervisor Nick Lakari and At-Large Commissioner Mary Johns submitted their resignations to Airport Manager Tony Krysiak.

Johns and Lakari both were upset with what Johns termed failure of Marinette County “to provide its representatives on the Commission with legal counsel, or even casual advice.” Lakari stated as he submitted his resignation that “The help we have been requesting has not been granted....There has been no political assistance from our county board chair, and no legal assistance from our corporation counsel.”

Lakari said his concerns matched those of Johns, and he had expressed them in the resignation letter he addressed to County Board Chair Vilas Schroeder.

The three Marinette County Commissioners had received summons to appear in court Friday afternoon, and did so without the assistance of legal counsel.

Comments later indicated Marinette County Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison is not licensed to practice law in Michigan. In addition to her Corporation Counsel duties, Mattison is a member of the triumvirate serving as Marinette County Administrator since the resignation of Ellen Sorensen. Other members of the administrative team are Finance Director Pat Kass and Human Resources Director Jennifer Holtger.

Sauve said after the court proceedings and resignations on Friday that Commission by-laws allow any two commissioners to request a meeting. He said payroll has not been interrupted because of continuing authorization, but was concerned that other bills and essential airport business are not being taken care of. He expressed hope that the first order of business at the next Commission meeting will be election of a chair and vice chair.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Airport Commission would be at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19. Special meetings can be called by the chair with four hours advance notice, but since the commission currently has neither a chair or vice chair, that option does not appear viable.

Marinette County has not yet named its new Commissioners, and that may not be possible until its next County Board meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 26.

The controversy dates back to June, when Jason Lauzer, Menominee County’s at-large commissioner, resigned to accept a job out of state. Menominee County Board, on a split vote, appointed Anderson to fill that post.

The three Marinette County Commissioners voted in June and July not to seat him, citing issues connected with Anderson’s ownership of a hangar at the airport and lease of the space it occupies. In her resignation letter, Johns also cited the controversy that surrounded Anderson’s prior term on the commission, which ended in 2010 when he was defeated by Jim Pearson in a County Board recall election.

After the July 15 refusal to seat Anderson the two Menominee County Commissioners walked out, leaving the Marinette County members without a quorum to continue the meeting.

At a special meeting on Friday, July 18, Menominee County Board authorized Prosecuting Attorney Dan Hass to file suit aimed at forcing the Airport Commission to accept Anderson as the its citizen at large member. Hass filed the suit later that day, and the Aug. 8 hearing was subsequently scheduled.

The suit asked the court to order TCAC to approve Anderson’s appointment immediately, and sought recovery of legal fees and other associated costs incurred by Menominee County.

Hass said at that time, and again in court on Aug. 8, that the issue was not whether or not there was support for Anderson, it was whether or not the Twin County Airport documents do or do not give Menominee County Board the right to choose the persons who will represent them on the Commission.

A meeting of the Commission’s Executive/Finance committee that had been scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 12 was canceled. Agenda for the canceled meeting included review of financials, review of the 2015 budget, review of comp time for Airport Manager, and “status of summons and complaint naming TCAC as Defendant, Info only.”

The Friday, Aug. 8 events began at the noon meeting of the Airport Commission that was convened by Lakari, acting chair since Lauzer’s resignation.

Agenda included possible hiring of an attorney to defend the commission in the Menominee County suit, possible use of Commission funds to pay for hiring an attorney to defend the summons and complaint, and “discuss/consider requesting reimbursement from both Marinette and Menominee Counties for costs associated with hiring an attorney to defend Summons and Complaint.”

Lakari, Sauve and Johns were present. Meintz had said he would not attend. Plutchak was absent without an explanation. Eight members of the public were on hand.

Lakari noted there was no quorum and declared the meeting adjourned. He also asked the press to remain for announcements.

“I am rather disgusted and discouraged by Marinette County,” Johns declared. “We had requested information and advice and we did not get it!”

In a formal letter to Mattison Johns wrote: “Marinette county has chosen not to provide its representatives on the commission with legal counsel, or even casual advice, concerning the lawsuit filed by Menominee County. Why would I choose to volunteer for an entity that provides no support for my efforts?”

She went on;

“You refused to give any advice to Nick Lakari when he sough it on not one, but two occasions. The fact that you aren’t licensed to practice law in Michigan does not preclude you from giving non-legal advice in your role as part of the county’s interim administrative team.

“You work for the taxpayers. You have much to answer for to your constituency.

“An airport is a dynamic force in the economic development of a community. But there appears to be little support for the airport on the part of either county. It seems the Majority of the Menominee County Board want to turn the airport into a playground for private pilots, not a viable economic asset,” Johns concluded. “I simply prefer to focus my energies where I have a chance of accomplishing something.”

In her formal statement at the meeting, Johns declared:

“I would not be resigning if Marinette County had offered us legal counsel or even advice when it was sought back in June.

“When county government has cross-border financial and administrative legal agreements, the county should have a corporate counsel who is licensed to practice law in both states. This is a stipulation that the Marinette County Board should insist upon going forward. No more excuses!

“I believe the lawsuit could have been avoided with appropriate legal counsel.

“It is irresponsible and cavalier when the knee-jerk reaction on the part of the allegedly aggrieved Menominee County Board is to file a lawsuit that further divides a community that should be working together.

“A majority of the Menominee County Board wants to leave the impression our reluctance to seat Mr. Anderson is merely over whether or not his hangar lease and ownership has been properly transferred. The reluctance to seat him goes well beyond than that. One need look no further than newspaper clippings from 2009 and 2010 to see what problems occurred the last time Mr. Anderson was on the airport commission.

“I believe a majority of the Menominee County Board wants the airport to remain a playground for private pilots, not a viable economic asset. It is time for Marinette County to step up to the plate and support the airport’s economic vitality by supporting its representatives on the commission.

“My kudos to Bernie Lang and James Furlong of Menominee County for understanding the larger picture and the importance of the airport to a vibrant and growing community.

“I applaud Nick Lakari and Ted Sauve for their efforts on behalf of the airport and Marinette County. It’s a pity they have not received support from Marinette County.

“Airport Manager Tony Krysiak and Lineman Jeff LaFleur have demonstrated their devotion to the airport; they are to be commended and not, as in the past, harassed by Menominee County’s Airport Commission members,” Johns concluded.

Lakari said he also wrote to the Marinette County Board Chair expressing the same concerns.

“The real losers are the taxpayers if the airport is no longer supported by the counties,” Johns declared.

Sauve said he will continue to represent Marinette County as he has in the past, and will continue to support the airport.

“This is the first time in my 44 years in government that I have experienced people walking out if they disagree with a position,” Sauve said in regard to the departure of Plutchak and Meintz from the July meeting. “I find it deplorable for Menominee County to walk out when they didn’t get their way!”

However, Sauve went on, “I hope we can proceed with things that we have going at this time for the benefit of both counties.”

Comments of the commissioners indicated that Marinette County had mailed no responses to the court documents in regard to the hearing that was to begin two hours later in Menominee County Courthouse.

Sauve, Lakari and Johns were present on the Marinette County side of the aisle for the “Show Cause” hearing, along with Marinette County Supervisor Joe Banaszak. Banaszak, who also is a Town of Stephenson Supervisor, is manager of the town-owned Crivitz Airport. There were at least 15 spectators on the Menominee side, including Meintz and Plutchak.

Hass, who on many issues has served as legal advisor for the Airport Commission, was present on behalf of Menominee County Board.

Judge Celello asked if anyone was present to defend the Airport Commission, and there was no response.

He asked if the commissioners had been in contact with an attorney and noted the Airport Commission had not filed a response.

Lakari said he and the other two Marinette County Commissioners were present because they had been ordered to appear. In response to a question from Celello, Lakari said the commission had not hired an attorney.

Celello told Hass he had read his documents. Hass said since there had been nothing filed on behalf of the Marinette County position, “I’m asking the court to make a finding they are not in dispute. I’m asking you to act on the Menominee County Board’s request.”

“This boils down to Democracy 101,” Hass told the court. “It is Menominee County’s right to receive equal representation on the Airport Commisison....It’s a board of six and we need to have Menominee County’s representative recognized.”

“This is not about Garry Anderson,” Hass declared. “Menominee County has a legal right to make the appointment...It’s the Commission’s duty to seat the representative...All we’re asking is for this court to recognize Menominee County’s right to appoint.”

Celello asked Lakari his status, and Lakari said he had been acting chair of the Commission until noon, “when I chose to submit my resignation.”

Celello explained as a public corporation the Commission could not act through lay people, it must be represented by an attorney. Whether on the Commission or not, “You have no standing except as a witness,” Celello told the Marinette County contingent. “You can come and be a witness as to why a writ of mandamus should not be issued.”

When there was no response, Celello ruled that the Commission must accept the transfer of lease for Anderson’s hangar and accept the appointment of Anderson to the Commission.

He gave Hass 14 days to prepare the writ of mandamus papers, and said he will sign them as soon as they are ready. Hass said after court adjourned that he would get the papers done quickly. He believed as soon as the writ is signed the Menominee County appointee (Anderson) is on the Commission. Hass said there had been a conflict of interest in regard to the hangar lease, but it has been resolved, “so now let’s move on.”

With Anderson seated the Commission has four members - Sauve from Marinette County and Anderson, Meintz and Plutchak from Menominee County.


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