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Annexation: Northern Township rejects agreement modifications, attorney for Bemidji Township says that doesn't matter

BEMIDJI -- The attorney for Bemidji Township maintained Friday that the mediation agreement previously approved by the township and the city of Bemidji will remain in effect. The statement comes despite Northern Township's vote this week against allowing Bemidji Township to exit two other agreements.

"The (mediation) agreement absolutely is going forward," said John Steffenhagen, representing Bemidji Township.

The city and Bemidji Township voted in June to approve a mediation agreement that would allow Bemidji Township to leave the joint powers and annexation agreements that were approved nearly a decade ago by both entities and also Northern Township.

The mediation agreement came after Bemidji Township sued the city last August, claiming the city repeatedly breached the terms of the annexation agreement.

While Northern Township is not a party in the lawsuit, as one of the entities that signed the joint powers and annexation agreements in 2004, its vote is needed to enact changes to those two documents.

On Monday, during a Northern Township board meeting, supervisors voted 3-1 rejecting changes to those documents.

"We voted not to allow Bemidji Township out of the agreements," said Clark Chambers, vice chairman of the board. Chairman Mike Kelly could not immediately be reached for comment.

Chambers said the vote was 3-1 as supervisor Ron Gangeness was not in attendance, but Chambers said Gangness lives within the annexed area and had voiced his intent to abstain from the vote.

Voting against the motion was Kelly, but, according to Chambers, Kelly agreed in principle with the motion's message but was opposed to supervisors taking action without full board representation.

Contacted Friday afternoon, Steffenhagen said he believes Northern Township's vote would have no effect on the execution of the mediation settlement between Bemidji Township and the city.

"The agreement goes forward anyway," he said.

Steffenhagen said he made that point Wednesday during a scheduling conference in Beltrami County District Court and also sent letters Friday to both the city and Northern Township reinforcing his position on the matter.

In court, the city and township appeared before District Judge John Melbye, and their representatives discussed what they believed the next steps should be.

Bemidji City Attorney Al Felix said Friday that Melbye continued the matter for another 30 days.

The next scheduling conference was set for Sept. 11.