Alva Review-Courier -

Dissension on bids leaves airport farm lease in limbo


What appeared to be a routine matter on the Alva City Council agenda took a turn into the weeds Monday night. On June 11, the Alva Airport Commission chose the second highest bidder, Kelly and Kellie Thiesing, for a two year lease with one year optional renewal for airport farm ground. The Thiesing bid was about $300 less than the bid by James Wiebener who had been farming the land the past three years. Complaints about weeds were cited as the reason for the choice. The airport commission’s recommendation was on the agenda for city council approval at the June 18 meeting.

James Wiebener Speaks

Earlier in the agenda, the floor was opened to any citizens present who wished to speak. James Wiebener stepped to the podium. “In my opinion, through the negligence of the City of Alva or the airport board, the notice to bid was not put in the paper in a timely manner. The bids were opened June 3. I had the high bid,” said Wiebener. “At that point under good faith I thought I had the high bid and thought I would have a continuation of the lease. I was never given a notice to quit. I have never been contacted that I don’t have the lease anymore.

“With that being said, I in good faith started working the ground thinking I had the high bid and had the lease. Since then I found out through the paper that I do not have the bid. With that being said, I have invested a substantial amount of money in the land already and I would like to know how I will be reimbursed for that.

“Addressing the allegations against my poor farming, rumors have been said that I have not properly fertilized; I have not properly applied weed killer. I can prove that I’ve done both. I’ve been a good steward of the land. This year has been the most challenging year that my dad, who is 90-some years old, he’s ever seen. This is not a year to judge someone’s farming because I’ve done everything I should have done.

“I applied weed killer, I fertilized, I worked the ground late, I planted late in hopes to control the joint grass. That’s one of the things I’ve heard through rumors was an issue. I was never contacted to say, ‘Hey, there’s been complaints.’”

Wiebener’s two-minute time limit expired, but before he could sit down his wife, Edith, spoke up, “I give my two minutes to my husband.” The mayor and council members had no objection so Wiebener was allowed to continue.

“If anybody had approached me and asked me, I could have told them the plan I already had in place. I’d already talked to the appropriate people at Wheeler Brothers what my plans were and had the chemicals on hand and what my plans were. But I was never contacted about these complaints,” he said. “I don’t know if they are actual complaints. Are they complaints that have been entered into any official meetings, any official notes? And if they were, why was I not contacted?

“Why am I here having to defend myself? It smacks of backroom collusion to get my bid to be rejected. It can’t be collusion in the bidding process, but it seems like there was collusion to knock me out of the bidding process. Is it personal? Is it against something I’ve said in the past? I don’t know. I’ve worked really hard at that. I’ve worked hard on the airport ground. This year was challenging, and this is what I’m being judged on.

“Nobody’s said anything to me. I reiterate, nobody’s said anything to me about any complaints. I don’t know. Thank you.”

Gathering his notes, Wiebener started to sit down but turned back. “Oh, one thing, I do have a bill for the work I’ve done. Who do I present that to?”

Mayor Kelly Parker said, “That would be something that you’d probably need to discuss with your attorney if you feel like there’s a claim to be made.”

“I have,” said Wiebener. “And he says there is. Are you saying that I’ve done the work?”

“I’m not saying anything,” said Parker. “This is not an item we can discuss. We do have an agenda item on the awarding of the bid. We can’t discuss your claim.”

John Wiebener Speaks

The next speaker stepped forward. “I’m John Wiebener. I’m related to James. I was a bidder on this airport ground. I put in a bid looking at input costs and everything was a realistic bid, knowing I would not get it. So I don’t have a dog in the fight.

“What I do have a dog in the fight is that on social media of Alva Rants, there are certain people that are posting false and malicious lies. And one of them was that complaints were only just made at the airport board by one of the other bidders who did not get the bid. I have talked with Dale Logsdon who is the chairman and asked him if any of the bidders ever addressed anything about the airport’s lease with him, and he said no. I said, ‘Did I ever try to influence the bid?’ He said, ‘No.’

“So there are lies being put out here trying to win over public sentiment on social media with no recourse. That is where I take offense, that there are lies being spread about complaints and stuff, and there was never – there was a retraction by the paper – there were never any comments by the bidders about the farming process because if we’re bidding, we do not get to influence the bidding process.”

City Council Discussion

When the council reached item 11 on the agenda, Mayor Parker read aloud, “Discussion and action to approve the Alva Airport Commission recommendation of Kelly and Kellie Thiesing as the highest best bid for the Airport Farm Ground Lease.” He said the Thiesing bid was for $36,685.40 a year.

“That is the airport board’s recommendation,” said Parker. “They are expressing that the number of complaints they received. They did not receive complaints when the Thiesings held the grounds, and that they have received complaints with the Wiebeners when they held the ground.”

Troy Brooks asked, “Nobody’s passed those complaints on to the Wiebeners though?”

“I don’t know if they did or not,” answered Parker.

“Did they not document the complaints … like officially documented them?” asked Sadie Bier.

“There is not a file for that,” Parker stated.

Daniel Winters asked, “What is the lease period on the property?”

“The lease period was up June 30 or after removal of the crops to be harvested, whichever comes first. So if the crops had not been harvested by June 30, they would have the opportunity to harvest the crops,” Parker said.

Taylor Dowling asked about the number of complaints and “what specifically were the complaints?”

“The complaints … I don’t know the total number. I wasn’t there,” said Parker. He was absent from the airport meeting but listened in via cellphone.

“The board members discussed it. I couldn’t hear everything they were saying,” he added. “They did complain about weeds and joint grass. I did talk with one of the airport board members this afternoon and he expressed that some of the weeds were beginning to be an issue for the airport manager with regard to our property that we maintain.”

“Have these been ongoing complaints? How long is their lease?” asked Bier.

“I didn’t get any notice of complaints until the bidding process was started,” said Parker.

“I was told they’ve been leasing for the last three years,” said Brooks.

“And they haven’t had any complaints until just now?” asked Bier.

“I don’t know what complaints they have or have not received,” said Parker. “I don’t know that I can verify what they have or have not received. The airport board … their legal obligation is not to determine how many complaints or whatever received. Their legal obligation is to choose a bidder that they feel is going to be best suited for the management of the property.

“Their discussion, and again it was speaker phone that I was available for, their discussion centered around the belief that the Thiesings would bring more value to the airport property, and in turn the next time the lease was due for bidding that we would receive a higher return. They believe they would see a higher return if the Thiesings leased it than if the Wiebeners continued to lease it. That is the basis; that is a legal basis.”

“I would just think that without actually having those complaints documented and on file, I don’t know how they’re making a best case for …,” said Brooks. “I mean, I can understand you’d want who will do the best. I would think they would keep the documentation on file the last three years where you could pull it out and say, ‘Look on this date we had this complaint about this, and we talked to the leaseholder and they refused to take action.’”

“Is it possible to table this item and have the airport board furnish those complaints and kind of explain it to us?” asked Dowling.

“We’re going to get sued either way”

“If you all are worried about getting sued, we’re going to get sued either way because we have another leaseholder who’s probably going to sue us either way,” said Parker. “So either they’re (Wiebeners) going to sue us or Thiesings are going to sue us. The airport board believes that the Thiesings have the best bid.”

“I see it like this. It’s a timing issue. I think a one year lease would be very difficult to do. If we were sharecropping, I think we’d have complaints,” said Greg Bowman.

“Well, it’s a three year lease. It’s two with an option for a third,” explained Parker.

“Then we have two options: paying the man for the work he’s done or let him farm it for one more year and go from there,” said Bowman.

“It’s a three year lease though,” said Brooks. Mayor Parker explained it was a two year lease with an option for a third year that had to be requested in writing.

“And with that being what’s bid, we couldn’t, without going back out for bid, change it to one year,” said Winters.

“The only way to change who we accept for bids is to reject all bids and go back out for bids,” explained Parker.

After a little more clarification, Connor Martin made a motion to approve the airport’s recommendation of the Thiesings as the highest best bid. Dowling immediately made a motion to reject all bids and go out for new bids. The mayor explained there was a motion on the floor so Dowling could not make another. Parker then called for a second to Martin’s motion. It died for lack of a second.

Motion to Reject All Bids

Dowling immediately stated, “I’ll motion to reject all bids and go out for bidding for a second round.”

“And I’ll second it,” said Brooks.

Parker called for discussion saying “It does not take care of the issue. The timing of this lease, any ag lease, this is poor timing. To have a July 1 to June 30 ag lease is poor timing.”

“My concern is justification of best bid,” said Winters. “By default, we have always operated by default, that in this case highest wins unless there’s grounds for justification. Or the other way when lowest is best unless there are grounds for justification. My concern on this situation is there is no ground for justification that we can document and say, ‘This is the case.’

“I believe we don’t solve the problem by rejecting all bids. The more appropriate solution would be to award it to the highest bidder. Otherwise we have exposed bids at this point. You’re going to have similar people going out for bid on it again, and it’s going to go to the airport board, and they’re still going to go with whatever they want. In that respect, I have concern that they cannot provide us with a solid grounds of those complaints that seemingly came out of nowhere. We don’t have any documentation on. I don’t understand farming enough to speak intelligently to that side of it. Those could very well be valuable complaints.”

“I don’t have it in writing or anything like that but I discussed with legal counsel, both ours and the municipal league, that they feel the action taken has merit,” said Parker.

“So legal counsel is ok that there are complaints?” asked Bier.

“Legal counsel has advised that there will be lawsuits filed against us because both parties have worked the ground at this point without a contract,” explained Parker.

Winters commented he’s not an attorney but in his opinion neither has grounds.

“A highlight on this for next year, this should be coming up in February or March that a decision is made so there’s no confusion either way so that everybody knows once the crop is harvested then whoever the new person is takes over,” said Martin’

Several councilmembers made comments regarding the need for earlier bids.

“You’re right,” said Parker. “The bidding does need to be completed by March probably at the latest.”

Bowman started to make a motion but Parker reminded him, “The motion on the table is to reject all bids and rebid.”

Options Limited

Brooks asked, “What other question can we entertain if this doesn’t pass?”

“You’ve got in favor of the agenda item as written,” said Parker. Then he looked at the printed agenda again. “The way the agenda’s written you can’t ... so you either reject it … you really can’t reject all bids either because that’s not the item on the agenda. Item that’s on the agenda is to approve the airport board’s recommendation. So you either approve it or not. So technically, we don’t have a motion because you can’t do anything else.”

“So you did talk to Drew (Cunningham, the city attorney) and the OML (Oklahoma Municipal League)?” asked Bier.

“Yes, the obligation by the airport board is to take the highest and best bid,” said Parker. “And if it is believed by the airport board members that the grass and the weeds ... that would be a valid reason to say it is not the best offer.”

“Either way they’re going to give the recommendation, and at this point we can’t rebid,” said Bier. “Everybody knows what the bids were and it’s just going to be the same thing.”

“Either way, we’re kind of in a spot,” agreed Parker. “We’re going to get with one of the bidders having … who both of them have worked up that ground. One of them is going to want us to pay their expenses. And I don’t know what our obligation is. Our lease was up June 30. That was the end of the lease that the lease signed.”

After some reflection, Bier said, “I’ll make the motion to approve the Alva Airport’s recommendation.” Martin quickly seconded. The roll was called with Bier and Martin voting yes; Winters, Swallow and Bowman voting no; and Dowling and Brooks abstaining. With the approval of the Alva Airport Commission recommendation failing by one vote, it appears the matter is returned to the airport commission.


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