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Joint planning: City, townships brainstorm on ways to work together on issues

Cliff Tweedale, executive director of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, wants to see discussions between the city and township leadership persevere.

Officials from the city of Bemidji and Bemidji and Northern townships came together for a joint meeting Tuesday night at the Bemidji Town Hall.

The meeting, facilitated by Tweedale, focused around two questions

- How do the Bemidji City Council and Bemidji and Northern townships work together to handle issues?

- Should the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board be the final decision maker?

The joint planning process was officially adopted in 2007 with the start of the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board and Joint Planning Commission. The JPB assumed the planning and zoning responsibilities of the city of Bemidji and the two townships.

The City Council and the two townships last met in a joint session in September at Northern Town Hall, where they discussed several issues but focused much of their discussion on annexation. Prior to that, the three entities got together in May in Bemidji.

Two joint planning sessions are held each year.

"I believe in what you guys are doing," Tweedale said of the joint planning session. "This is new territory. You are plowing new ground. I see a lot of maturity in this room."

Several elected officials at the meeting voiced their opinions on what they felt the role of the JPB should be and how the voices of the township board are to be taken under consideration.

"I think this is the group that needs to air these things because we are the elected people from our neighborhoods and our communities," said Becky Livermore, a supervisor on the Bemidji Town Board. "Who else is going to do it and bring these things to the table if we don't?"

Mel Milender, planning administrator for the joint planning office, added that while he works with the city, the JPB and townships on issues, he ultimately works for the JPB.

"As the planning staff, there's an open door to everyone in this room to come in and discuss an issue," Milender said. "In my daily work, I represent the JPB first and the three constituents second. I don't see the JPB as just a township. I see them as two townships and a city working together."

Tweedale said he was impressed with input from all three entities at the meeting and said this has prompted ideas that will need to be discussed in the future.

"We know we're growing organically this thing called the JPB," Tweedale said. "How do you go about starting to have a conversation to decide who decides? We did it here tonight."