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Olson to become newest Bemidji councilor

Reed Olson

BEMIDJI – The Bemidji City Council will have a full roster once again.

Reed Olson, co-owner of the Wild Hare Bistro and a member of the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission, was chosen unanimously Monday night by the city council to fill its vacant Ward 4 spot.

“I think Reed has proven his demeanor to be one of thoughtfulness and hard work on the commission, and I appreciate that,” said Mayor Rita Albrecht. She added that she believed each of the four candidates would have been a good addition.

The vacancy was declared after Albrecht won the mayoral election in November in the middle of her term as the Ward 4 councilor. Olson will fill out the rest of her term – through 2014.

City clerk Kay Murphy said she intends to swear Olson in at the next regular council meeting on Feb. 4. He will have to step down from his spot on the JPC, Murphy said.

Olson and three other candidates – Lee Falk, Linda Lemmer and Byron Rock – interviewed for the position Monday with the council. Among other things, they were asked about their community engagement, why they want to serve on the council and what they want to accomplish.

Olson first moved to Bemidji in 1994 and returned as a permanent resident to the area in 2004, he said.

Olson said he’s wanted to be on the council for “a number of years.” He said his dad is an employee of the city of Litchfield, Minn., where he has attended almost every council meeting since 1978.

“He never ran for office, but he always felt it was very important to be involved in city governance and be aware of what was going on,” Olson said during his interview.

Olson referenced his experience as a business owner several times, saying he’s invested in the community’s success.

“If Bemidji succeeds, I have a better chance of succeeding,” he said. He added that being frugal in business decisions will be a helpful asset to bring to the council, which will face difficult budget decisions of its own.

He cited development on the city’s south shore as a priority.

Once each candidate was interviewed, the council took up the task of choosing the ward’s representative. Current councilors pointed out different strengths from each candidate.

Lemmer and Rock have previously run for the at-large council seat. Jim Thompson, who ultimately won that seat, estimated that Lemmer may have knocked on every door in the city during election season.

“One of the things about Linda (is) she’s everywhere,” Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson said. “I’ve been on the opposite side of more than one thing with her, but it hasn’t made me dislike her or even not want to hear what she had to say about the next thing.”

Some councilors saw Falk, who hasn’t run in a Bemidji election, as potentially bringing a fresh viewpoint. Councilors also cited Rock’s emphasis on “common sense” solutions as a positive attribute.

But ultimately, they chose Olson, citing his experience on the JPC and as a business owner.

“I think (Olson) had the most impressive interview, in my opinion,” Ward 1 Councilor Michael Meehlhause said, a sentiment with which Ward 2 Councilor Roger Hellquist agreed.

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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