Despite some dissent and criticism, the Kalispell City Council on Monday approved a revised contract that would put Red Eagle Aviation in charge of managing the city airport starting Jan. 1.
The change from an in-house manager to privatized management services was expected to save the city about $13,000 a year, or about 16 percent, and provide a continuous management presence at the airport. The current airport manager’s office is at City Hall.
The city put out a request for proposals from potential private managers in September and received two responses — one from Red Eagle (the main aviation business at the airport) and another from a Florida-based firm.
City Manager Doug Russell said the Florida firm’s bid would exceed current management costs, defeating the purpose of switching to privatized management. He noted that Red Eagle, which is managed by Jim Pierce, is well-situated to oversee day-to-day maintenance and operation needs at the airport. The contract sets forth about a dozen duties related to customer service, inspections, maintenance and general operations.
It specifies that Red Eagle would receive $36,000 a year, plus revenue from aircraft tie-down fees, which amounted to about $1,750 this year, plus it would be paid for snow removal efforts.
Scott Davis of the Quiet Skies group that opposed airport expansion, told the council that hiring Red Eagle “is like letting the fox guard the hen house.”
He asserted that “Red Eagle continues to violate rules of the airport” by allowing its instructors to do “touch and goes” and take off to the north over the city. Davis has long maintained those practices cause unnecessary noise pollution and potential hazards to city residents.
But toward the end of his remarks, Davis acknowledged that there really are no city rules for aviation operations at the airport.
He requested that the council table the contract and “first put in place some city air park rules, guidelines and fines for such behavior.”
Council members sought clarification and Russell confirmed that there are no rules other than general Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
“If we want to institute policies, we can at anytime,” Russell said.
Council member Bob Hafferman said he would support the contract if it were for one year term instead 3 1/2 years term because he believes the current contract is not explicit or stringent enough in describing Red Eagle’s duties at the airport, especially when those duties could be modified by the council in the near future.
“We don’t have any rules or regulations and that’s the problem we got,” he said.
Russell explained that the three-year contract term provides for budgeting consistency and predictability. Renewing the contract annually would put the city at risk of paying more every year for airport management services.
Mayor Tammi Fisher pointed out that the contract is for managing day-to-day operations, not setting policies for the airport. The contract, she said, “wouldn’t prevent the council from doing that … as easily as we can now.”
However, Fisher advanced several amendments, including one that would require Red Eagle to submit receipts for payments received for aircraft tie-down services, providing some documentation of complaints about airport operations, and language that makes it clear that Red Eagle would be in charge of administering city policies, “including those that may be adopted during the term of this agreement.”
Russell was asked about what plans might be pursued for long-term management policies, including rules for aircraft operations. Russell said that subject could be scheduled for discussion in the next few months.
Seven council members voted to adopt the amendments, and six voted for the contract. Council members Hafferman and Tim Kluesner voted against the contract. Council member Phil Guiffrida was excused from the discussion and votes because he is being sued for defamation by the current airport manager, Fred Leistiko.
Because of the amendments, it is possible Red Eagle could reject the revised contract. If that were the case, the issue would come back before the council.