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Chattin and City Council: Improvements in relationship expected

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Barb Meuers is still skeptical.

"I'm a doubting Thomas," Bemidji City Councilor Meuers said Monday at the tail end of a council retreat with City Manager John Chattin.

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The council received recommendations on how to improve the council-city manager relationship. The full list of recommendations can be found online at www.bemidjipioneer.com/event/article/id/100013178.

Included were 14 points - eight recommendations for Chattin and six for the council - that focused mostly on improved communication.

Following 2 1/2 hours of discussion, mediator Jeffrey Thompson, principal consultant of Innovations in Quality in Hermantown, Minn., invited Chattin and the council to offer closing thoughts on whether they believed the plan would enhance their relationship.

Chattin said he would continue working to improve communication, but he hoped the council, too, would work to improve their rapport.

There have been instances in the past, he said, when some councilors have approached city department heads to ask questions regarding the operation of the city. Chattin would prefer councilors address their concerns to him directly.

"I will make an effort and I hope the council will also make an effort," he said.

Meuers, however, was not sure the retreat and the recommendations would lead to an improvement.

She, along with other Councilors Roger Hellquist and Greg Negard, noted that most, if not all, of the recommendations have been suggested before.

"I don't think we're reinventing the wheel here," Negard said.

Meuers said she was having a difficult time believing that the relationship would improve.

"I will try by best in moving forward, but I'm not expecting much," Meuers said.

Negard noted that the existing City Council will be in place for at least one more year and more divided votes will, inevitably, occur.

"We need to get past it," he said. "Once the gavel is dropped, we need to let it go."

The retreat placed a spotlight on the elimination of the city's community development director position, which was decided on a 4-3 vote.

Chattin said he was "extremely disappointed" that some city goals and objectives will not be met in the near future due to the reduction in city staff.

"Beyond that, I'm fine" with the outcome of the retreat, Chattin said.

Councilor Jerry Downs said he was tired of hearing that Chattin is disappointed and stated his belief that the role of the city manager was to "build consensus."

"If you can't move forward, then you need to move on," Downs said.

Councilor Roger Hellquist said he gets the impression that Chattin does not feel that the city manager reports to the council.

He noted that the retreat itself was called by Chattin, and the agenda and the chosen mediator had not been discussed by the council.

"This is all indicative of the underlying problem," Hellquist said.

Councilor Kevin Waldhausen said he went through a learning process since he joined the council at the start of this year.

He admitted that there have been times since the decision to eliminate the community development director have been difficult.

"At times, I took it personally," he said. "You can't do that."

Mayor Richard Lehmann said he hopes Meuers is wrong and that improvements will be made by both Chattin and the council.

He urged his fellow councilors to hold Chattin accountable for sticking to the recommendations and to strive themselves to make improvements.

"That's the only fair thing for John; that's the only fair thing for the council," he said.

bwesley@bemidjipioneer.com

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