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Winsted, Westside Skydivers move toward contract compromise
Aug. 27, 2012
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Special meeting at 9 a.m. Aug. 27 to consider new agreement

By Starrla Cray
Staff Writer

WINSTED, MN – No formal action was taken on a new city contract for Westside Skydivers during Tuesday’s city council meeting, but negotiations are moving forward.

Joe Johnson of Westside Skydivers said he’d be willing to sign a contract if Winsted would concede on two points: an end time of sunset, and the continued use of the arrival/departure building.

The council directed City Administrator Brad Martens to work with Johnson to find an agreement.

On Wednesday afternoon, the city announced a special meeting in the council chambers Monday, Aug. 27 at 9 a.m. to consider a new contract with Westside Skydivers.

Previous actions
The Westside Skydivers contract was terminated at the Aug. 7 city council meeting, due to violations of contract in regards to hours of operation.

In the meantime, Johnson was allowed to continue to operate by taking off from the airport and landing the jumpers on private property.

The contract violation was brought to light through a written complaint from Winsted Airport Commission Member Glenn Weibel, which documented instances of skydiving activities taking place after approved hours.

A special meeting, paid for by Westside Skydivers, took place Aug. 10 to consider a new contract that would expire the end of 2012. Johnson did not agree to the terms of the proposed contract at that time, and stated that he would not sign the contract as presented.

Under the city’s proposed contract, hours of operation were stated as no earlier than 8 a.m., and no later than 30 minutes prior to sunset.

The contract also stated that Westside Skydivers would need an adequate quantity of portable restroom facilities, and approval for items stored at the airport.

A first offense could result in at least a two-day suspension and/or a $1,000 fine. A second offense could result in at least a 14-day suspension and/or a $2,000 fine. The third offense could be at least a 30-day suspension and a $5,000 fine.

The contract also retained the city’s right to terminate the contract in case of non-compliance, without prior notice.

Westside Skydivers’ proposal
Johnson later gave the city a proposed agreement that adjusted the terms.

The contract, which was presented at Tuesday’s meeting, proposed lengthening hours of operation from sunrise to sunset.

Instead of portable restrooms, Johnson proposed reimbursing the city for cleaning the arrival/departure building and providing toiletries.

For violation of contract terms, Johnson suggested a fine only, instead of a possible suspension. Johnson also proposed changing the right to terminate for non-compliance to a 30-day notice, instead of immediate.

Contract negotiations
According to Council Member Dave Mochinski, the contract Johnson presented was “too dangerous” for the city to accept.

“We are just going to be faced with a nightmare, and I think, a huge liability on behalf of the local taxpayer,” Mochinski said.

At the Aug. 7 meeting, Mochinski was the only council member to vote in opposition of terminating the Westside Skydiving contract, a decision he now says he regrets.

“I was only thinking about the revenues; I wasn’t thinking about the liability,” he said. “I should have voted just like the rest of the council.”

Mochinski said that when he was elected to the council, he was assigned to be the liaison at the airport.

“In the past six years, I’ve spent hundreds of hours out at the airport,” he said. “I’ve been to every airport commission meeting, or anything that has to do with the airport.”

Mochinski, who is personally interested in aircraft, has also attended Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) meetings in Minneapolis.

“I’ve skydived before,” he said. “It’s been a fun time. I’ve enjoyed it immensely.”

Mochinski said the council’s job is to listen to everyone, not just one entity.

He explained that in the new contract, the city decided to address the areas that had been causing problems.

Property damage was one area Mochinski mentioned.

In the city’s proposed contract, it states that Johnson is responsible for damage to the airport caused by customers or employees of his skydiving business. Damage does not include normal wear and tear due to approved activities.

Johnson proposed taking this part of the contract out, stating that it should be the fault of the individual responsible for the damage.

“I can’t be responsible for them after work,” Johnson said.

Mochinski pointed out another concern in the contract is the use of the arrival/departure building.

“The FAA building is not for commercial use; the septic system will not be able to handle it,” he said.

Johnson disagreed, stating that the inspection company said it could handle the volume, and that it does not need to be expanded.

“I’ve offered to pay for the cleaning services, and also to provide toilet paper and paper towels,” he said. “This would be just until we can come up with a permanent solution.”

Someday, Johnson is hoping to construct a new facility of his own, with restrooms.

Johnson added that he would also be willing to pay for wear and tear on the arrival/departure building.

When asked his reason for not wanting to use portable restrooms, Johnson said he doesn’t want to subject his customers to that.

Martens said he is uncertain if the city can agree to let a private business use the arrival/departure building, because it is publicly funded by the FAA. He plans to research the issue.

As for fines/suspensions, Mochinski said Johnson’s proposed changes indicate that he’s planning to break the rules again.

“The days of operating are so limited already; I would rather double the fine than take a day suspension,” Johnson replied. “It’s just not good for business.”

Council comments
Council Member Bonnie Quast said she is upset that the city council has taken the blame for Westside Skydivers’ contract termination.

“We didn’t break the rules; we didn’t put you in this situation,” she told Johnson. “The grief that most of us have taken in the past two weeks is unbelievable.”

Johnson said he hadn’t anticipated that the contract would be terminated.

“You were part of creating that contract,” Quast said. “If you were unhappy with the way it was, why didn’t you come in and ask for it to be changed?”

Johnson said he assumed discussion and disciplinary measures would have taken place at the Aug. 7 meeting.

When pressed for a comment from other council members, Council Member George Schulenberg said he is concerned about conceding to use of the arrival/departure building.

“I’m looking at that building, and in two years it could be trashed,” he said. “I don’t know how we’re going to resolve that here.”

“Unfortunately, we’re in a bad situation,” Mayor Steve Stotko added.

Airport commission
At the Aug. 7 council meeting, Stotko suggested that Johnson and Weibel resign from the Winsted Airport Commission due to personal conflict.

Weibel later submitted his resignation, but then e-mailed Martens with a request that his resignation be removed from the Aug. 21 consent agenda if Johnson had not submitted his resignation.

At the time of the meeting, Johnson had not submitted a resignation notice, so the council removed Weibel’s resignation from the agenda.

During the open forum section of the meeting, Weibel came forward and said that his professional integrity and honesty would not let him continue to serve on the airport commission anymore, and that’s why he resigned.

Mochinski reminded Weibel that the council was asked to remove his resignation from the agenda if Johnson had not also resigned.

“So, you’re not really resigned yet,” Mochinski said.

Weibel responded by saying, “I will retract that part of my statement,” and added that he will stay on the airport commission.

Weibel proceeded to speak about his conversations with the FAA, and issues with Westside Skydivers.

City Attorney Fran Eggert told Weibel it would be proper to have both parties present if Weibel is making allegations.

The council plans to discuss disbanding the entire airport commission at its next work session, Tuesday, Sept. 4.

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