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City Council votes to postpone decision on events center committee, again

For the second time in two weeks, the Bemidji City Council tabled a vote on a proposed events center committee.

The council voted 4-3 last week to postpone a decision until Tuesday night on a Steering Committee whose members would work with City Manager John Chattin on events center issues. Chattin could not attend the meeting last week and a few councilors wanted clarification on what the duties of the Steering Committee would be.

But, three councilors - Jerry Downs, Nancy Erickson and Onen Markeson - were unable to attend Tuesday night's meeting, and the four present councilors could not reach an agreement on the matter.

Chattin said he wanted a small committee that could meet to discuss events center planning.

"It's frustrating for me," Chattin said, explaining that he originally wanted a three- to five-member committee that he could meet with to "bounce ideas off of."

Councilor Roger Hellquist supported the formation of a committee that would include those already recommended - and all seven City Council representatives.

While every elected official would not likely attend every committee meeting, it would "give us the option of being there," Hellquist said.

Chattin pointed out that the city now is finalizing the construction of an $8.5 million Public Works Facility and the council has not been interested thus far in discussing every change order that has been made. Staff has recommended the changes and they were presented to the council for approval, he explained.

"Those are the same types of things the Steering Committee would be dealing with," Chattin said.

Hellquist then asked why a committee was not needed to make those decisions on the Public Works Facility. Moments later, he answered his own question when he said the events center is more complex.

Chattin said he now is spending about 30 hours a week on events center planning and coordination - and asked the council if it, too, was interested in spending 20 hours a week in meetings dedicated solely to the events center.

Hellquist replied that Chattin could not expect those who have been proposed to be Steering Committee members to dedicate that much of their own time every week.

Chattin said that if he received an e-mail or a call one morning from Leo A. Daly on the proposed design of the site or building, he could, hopefully, set up a Steering Committee meeting for that afternoon.

That wouldn't be possible if the entire City Council was on the committee because that would require a public meeting notice to fulfill the requirements of the Open Meeting Law.

Mayor Richard Lehmann said the city is consistently asking its design team for changes, and meetings could be needed on short notice.

Hellquist's motion to appoint the entire City Council to the Steering Committee, along with previously discussed candidates, failed 2-2.

Councilor Ron Johnson, who was opposed to Hellquist's motion, said he did not understand the reluctance of the City Council to authorize the committee.

Downs serves on the Parks and Trails Commission and the City Council has never felt the need to attend each of that committee's meetings, he said.

"We do this all the time with all the committees we have," Johnson said, adding that major decisions would still come before the council.

"This is a little different," said Councilor Barb Meuers, who voted with Hellquist for the appointment of the entire City Council.

Meuers said there is a perception in the city that decisions on the project have taken place behind closed doors.

Even if that is not true, "perception is reality," she said.

She also questioned whether all Steering Committee members would be required to live within the city limits.

While the city does not now plan to use property taxes to pay for the events center or its operation, Meuers said that if that ever is discussed, the Steering Committee should consist of only city residents.

Lehmann said potential members were chosen to represent a cross section of entities involved and the expertise needed on the project.

Chattin added that the project is a "regional" events center.

The motion to table the decision passed 3-1 as Hellquist was opposed. The issue was postponed until the March 3 regular council meeting.

The Steering Committee had originally been proposed to consist of the following people:

-- 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