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Events center committees: One formed, one tabled

The Bemidji City Council voted on Monday to retain complete decision-making control over the events center project - at least for now.

While the council authorized the formation of a Design Review Committee, it tabled a decision on a proposed Steering Committee.

On a 4-3 vote, the City Council majority voted to delay the Steering Committee issue until City Manager John Chattin, who was on vacation Monday, could be present to define the goals and responsibilities of such a group.

"The committee is set up to basically direct the council on what to think," said Councilor Roger Hellquist, who voted in favor of tabling the matter along with fellow Councilors Jerry Downs, Nancy Erickson, and Barb Meuers.

Chattin had presented the council with a list of potential members for both committees last Monday, Feb. 4.

In his staff report regarding the Steering Committee, he wrote:

"As the events center project moves forward, there are many day-to-day decisions that need to be made. If they require council action, they are deferred. However, many of these decisions do not require council action, but having a committee to consider issues would likely result in better decisions being made. A steering committee that would meet on a weekly basis would be ideal."

Hellquist said he could not support the formation of a committee that would be charged with such duties.

"They're going to make decisions in place of the council," he said.

Erickson concurred, "That doesn't tell me that they're an advisory committee at all."

City Attorney Al Felix said the Steering Committee was intended to bring together events center players who could assist in guiding the project forward.

"I don't think it's meant to usurp the critical decision-making of the City Council," he said.

Downs asked the council last week to consider the appointment of one more council person to each of the two committees - bringing the total number who would serve on each to three. Having more council representation would keep open the lines of communication between the council and the committees and build consensus on the project, he said.

"Right now (we) need to maximize the involvement of the decision-makers," Downs said. "And that's us."

Mayor Richard Lehmann said the Steering Committee would make recommendations to the City Council.

"The council's going to see this anyway," he said.

Hellquist, however, said he is hearing comments in the community about the number of meetings that have not been open to the public on the events center project.

Aside from closed council meetings on land negotiations, Hellquist said, the lease negotiations between the city and Bemidji State University were also closed.

Felix said that group was charged with identifying a potential lease agreement, and members of that committee needed to be able to speak frankly.

Hellquist said he was not questioning the legitimacy of the closed meetings, but was pointing out the "public perception" surrounding work done thus far.

Members of the Steering Committee had been proposed to be the following:

-- Mayor Richard Lehmann

-- Councilor Ron Johnson

-- John Chattin, city manager

-- Brian Freeberg, city engineer

-- Rob Bollinger, from the BSU Foundation

-- Dale Wolden, retired

-- Scott Turn, Security Bank

-- Kathy Guess, former business owner

-- Anne Sand, lead lobbyist for events center project

Design Review

The council did vote unanimously to authorize the creation of a Design Review Committee.

The members are proposed to include:

-- Mayor Richard Lehmann

-- Councilor Onen Markeson

-- Sandy Kaul, local artist

-- Cindy Serratore from the Historic Preservation Committee

-- Craig Gray, city engineer

-- John Winter, landscape architect

-- Dennis Parker, forest service park planner

-- Mike Pollock, Widseth Smith Nolting architect

-- Gayle Quistgard, VisitBemidji

-- A Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce representative

-- A Bemidji Youth Advisory Commission member

Lehmann said this group would be charged with working with the design team and Leo A. Daly on an appropriate design for the exterior of the facility.

The first plan - "the one that looked like an iceberg" - was unacceptable to the community, Lehmann said.

Instead, the group would advocate for a design that represents the Bemidji community, he said.