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Council debates city residency requirement for commissions

It's not a done deal yet.

The Bemidji City Council held a public hearing and the second reading of an ordinance that would limit membership of the Parks and Trails Commission to city residents.

No action was required at the meeting. The council will likely vote on the City Code amendment during its Dec. 3 meeting.

No one from the public was at the meeting to speak on the matter.

However, Mayor Richard Lehmann said the City Council might want to consider non-city residents to serve on the commission if they are within the areas designated for annexation.

The city wants to encourage membership on its commissions, Lehmann said.

Councilor Nancy Erickson said she does not have a hard time finding people to serve on the city's committees - all she has to do is ask, she explained.

"If you ask them to sit, they are honored," she said. "I do believe these positions should first be available and always available for city residents."

Lehmann disagreed and said that he has asked residents to serve on commissions and they are not interested.

"I find a great reluctance," Lehmann said.

Councilor Jerry Downs said the Parks and Trail Commission should be limited to city residents because it must allocate the $9.8 million raised through the city's half-cent sales tax that is dedicated to improving the city's parks.

Lehmann pointed out that the Parks and Trails Commission is an advisory board; all final decisions regarding the $9.8 million are ultimately made by the City Council.

But the City Council generally takes the advice of the commission, Downs said.

There are some committees now that limit membership to city residents. City representatives on both the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board and the Joint Planning Board must be city residents, as do members of the Charter Commission.

However, City Attorney Al Felix said the city's Building Appeals Committee does not require city residency, and that there are others.

"You have the flexibility ... to do what you think is appropriate," Felix said.

Councilor Ron Johnson said it would probably make sense to consider membership from areas that will be annexed. Additionally, he said a suggestion was made to allow non-city residents to serve as non-voting members.

"That was a pretty good idea, I thought," Johnson said, adding that outside residents are paying the sales tax, too.