I applaud the City Council's decision last year to hire Community Development Director Rita Albrecht. It is obvious that despite the recession, Bemidji is still growing - setting sail. In light of the council's recent decision to drop the position, I have to ask who will be charting the course as we encounter the storms that left our sister city, Brainerd, adrift.
To be fair, part of the Brainerd downtown area has been improved and is much more inviting than it used to be. However, it is too late for the east-west corridor, which remains an unsightly wall of commerce and concrete. Even their famous statues of Paul and Babe have been sacrificed for ill-conceived commercial expansion. Why did this happen in Brainerd? Foresight takes funding!
The best possible city planning outcomes require experienced personnel with the time, diplomacy and vision to write grants and work with businesses and community organizations. Rita Albrecht's knowledge, talent and skill in this area are widely recognized in our community. Unfortunately, she has been allowed to serve only one year at her post. Though well intentioned in their move to save money, the City Council may have inadvertently eliminated the position that stands between responsible city development and a fate similar to Brainerd's.
The Nov. 27 issue of the Bemidji Pioneer reports that if Ms. Albrecht files for unemployment, as entitled, the city could be paying up to $29,432 per year in benefits. We would, in effect, be paying her not to provide the guidance Bemidji desperately needs at this juncture.
Meanwhile, the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning office has been told that they will likely need, "... either a part-time employee or to contract for services to cover the work now performed by Rita Albrecht." -- further costs associated with this decision.
Why isn't the City Council scrambling to fund the position, which they had the good judgment to establish a year ago? Why not pay Ms. Albrecht part of what would be owed in unemployment compensation to search for ways to acquire the necessary funds? If that is not a feasible solution, other means of retaining her should be thoroughly explored. (The public deserves to know that every effort is being made.)
Few people possess the unique set of talents Ms. Albrecht brings to the table. She is a local treasure the city of Bemidji cannot afford to lose!