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New Bemidji councilors, mayor sworn in

New faces and familiar faces were sworn into office at the Bemidji City Council’s first meeting of the year. From left, Councilor Ron Johnson, Mayor Rita Albrecht and Councilors Nancy Erickson and Michael Meehlhause take the oath of office. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – The Bemidji City Council shifted seats and nameplates Monday night as two new councilors and a new mayor were sworn in.

Rita Albrecht became the first female mayor in Bemidji’s history Monday, and councilors Michael Meehlhause and Nancy Erickson also joined the council from wards 1 and 5, respectively. Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson was also sworn in after running unopposed for reelection in November.

“Thanks to the citizens of Bemidji for your faith in electing me your mayor,” Albrecht said. “With your help, I’ll do my best to serve Bemidji. I hope to live up to your expectations.”

November’s election brought youth to the council with the addition of Meehlhause, 23. It also brought back a former member in Erickson, who served on the council before running for mayor in 2008.

The fresh composition on the council also leaves one seat open, as Albrecht left her Ward 4 spot in the middle of her term. Ultimately, the council decided to open up applications for the seat.

The city’s charter allows for that seat to be filled by either appointment or special election. Erickson originally argued for a special election to give citizens in the ward a say in who would represent them.

But Ward 2 Councilor Roger Hellquist pointed out that the charter requires that the council make an appointment. The charter reads that if a vacancy is declared, the “council shall forthwith appoint an eligible person to fill the vacancy until the next regular municipal election.”

“How can you show any wiggle room in the word ‘shall’?” Hellquist said.

The charter also states that if the council fails to fill the vacancy within 30 days following the vacancy being declared, a special election will be called.

Applications and letters of intent will be taken until Jan. 22, and a special meeting will be held Jan. 28 to interview applicants.

Street improvement hearing

The public hearing on the annual street renewal project was postponed until Jan. 22, as the meeting notice wasn’t posted in the Pioneer before Monday’s meeting.

The council did discuss the assessments for the $1.2 million project, however. Erickson pointed out that some of the properties had recently been assessed for sewer and water improvements. City staff met Monday morning and discussed ways to alleviate some of the payments for property owners facing two assessments.

City manager John Chattin said the council could consider offering property owners the ability to combine the assessments, essentially lengthening the term of the first assessment and lowering the interest rate.

The project, which would improve 1.2 miles of city streets, will be paid with a combination of assessments and city funds.

Other actions:

-- The city accepted a new radar unit for a police squad car from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

-- The council also had the first reading of an ordinance amendment to authorize the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to conduct background checks on people seeking employment with the city. The BCA has been doing background checks for the city, but now requires cities to have an ordinance allowing them to do them.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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