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Council decides citizens' commissions should remain just that

Councilor Jerry Downs will not be a voting member of the Parks and Recreation Commission.

The majority of the Bemidji City Council decided on Monday that the citizens' advisory commissions should continue to be citizen-oriented.

Downs, who serves on the Park and Recreation Commission as an ex officio member, applied to become a voting member.

The matter originally was set to be considered during the consent agenda, but Mayor Richard Lehmann asked that the request be removed for discussion.

Lehmann said he thought Downs would do an "excellent" job as a voting member, but was concerned about having council members voting on the city's citizen-advisory commissions.

City Attorney Alan Felix said nothing prohibits a council member from serving as the voting member of a commission, but the city may find that citizens are less likely to serve on commissions if they feel that council members are taking them over.

He asked what the point is of having a citizens-advisory commission if the are basically council subcommittees.

Downs said he wanted to serve on the commission as a voting member because the commission makes recommendations on an $11 million parks budget.

"I take the responsibility seriously about spending that money," he said.

While other City Council members said they respect Downs and admire the work he has done regarding parks and recreation matters, they also said it just didn't seem right to have council members voting on the commissions.

The council was scheduled on Monday to consider an irrigation system for Diamond Point Park, but voted to postpone discussion until a later date. The preliminary cost for the irrigation system is about $32,000. Downs said the sprinkler system should have been included in the overall project.

"I think we need a watchdog, and I could be that," he said.

Councilor Nancy Erickson said Downs is still involved in the commission as an ex officio member.

"You're certainly participating," she said.

Downs said he would intend to only serve as a voting member until the money raised for park improvements through the half-sent sales tax is all spent.

Councilor Roger Hellquist said the situation was unique because the Parks and Recreation Commission makes recommendations on the $11 million budget.

Hellquist made a motion to approve the request. After calling for a second to the motion, Downs said he would second the motion, but Felix recommended that someone else do so. No one did, and the motion died.