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City, township await pivotal decision in annexation case

BEMIDJI — A pending judge’s decision could prove decisive in the two-year legal fracas over annexation between Bemidji Township and the city of Bemidji.

Ninth District Court Judge Paul T. Benshoof said Friday during a motion hearing that he would offer a ruling as soon as possible in the lawsuit.

Two dueling motions, each put in by opposing sides, could either expand the lawsuit or dismiss it depending on which is approved.

Bemidji’s attorney in the lawsuit, Jim Thomson, filed a motion late last year to confirm arbitrator David Meyers’ ruling, which itself confirmed most of a settlement agreement that the two parties came to in May.

Language in that agreement, the city argues, compels the township to dismiss or withdraw its lawsuit.

Bemidji Township’s attorney in the lawsuit, John Steffenhagen, has said he arbitrator ruled on the agreement, not the lawsuit.

Steffenhagen also filed a motion last month to amend the township’s original complaint. The new complaint would add the Greater Bemidji Joint Planning Board as a defendant in the case. It would also add claims based on actions that allegedly occurred after the settlement agreement.

Steffenhagen said before Benshoof handed down a ruling, it would be premature to say whether the township would file an additional lawsuit should Benshoof throw out the original lawsuit.

“There is conduct after May 31 that in Bemidji Township’s mind gave rise to additional claims,” he said after Friday’s hearing in Beltrami County District Court. “Obviously, we respect the court’s ruling and we’ll wait for it, see what it says before we make the call whether another lawsuit would be necessary.”

At several points during Friday’s hearing, Benshoof appeared skeptical of the township’s position. “This is a case of buyer’s remorse, isn’t it?” he said.

He also described the lawsuit as a “clash of personalities”.

Thomson said Benshoof has 90 days to issue a ruling but he expected it to come down sometime before that.

Benshoof replaced the previous judge in the case, John Melbye, who was removed by Northern Township after he added them as a party to the lawsuit.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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