BEMIDJI -- Because of a scheduling error in publishing a public notice, the Bemidji City Council cancelled a special election set for May 12 on Monday, and scheduled a new one for Aug. 11.

On Feb. 3, the council had declared a vacancy on the City Council, as Mike Beard had resigned from the Ward 2 seat in late January, citing health reasons. After the vacancy was declared, a notice was published on Feb. 8 indicating the filing period to run for office would be open from Feb. 10-25.

On Feb. 26, though, it was brought to the city's attention that 14 days are required by state statute for a public notice to be published before filing can open. As the 14 days weren't provided, the council had to push the special election back to Aug. 11, the same day as the Minnesota state primary. If no candidate earns at least 50% on that day, the runoff election will take place during the general election on Nov. 3.

"You can't just hold a special election whenever you feel like it," said Ward 5 Council member Nancy Erickson. "We can only do it in certain months. So, we were trying to work within this timeline. Not that this was deliberate, but we were trying to fill that seat ASAP, and May 12 was going to work."

Over the 15-day filing period, two candidates, Jaime Thibodeaux and Doug Flatness, had filed affidavits of candidacy. A third resident, Mark Thorson, also attempted to file an affidavit of candidacy via fax, however, his document was declined. During Monday's meeting, city staff said they verified with the Minnesota Secretary of State's office that the submitted document has to be the original affidavit. Therefore, it can be mailed, but not faxed.

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Ward 2 takes up much of the northwest section of the city, including the Bemidji Regional Airport. The Ward 2 term is set to conclude Dec. 31, 2022, as Beard won the seat in 2018, when he defeated Thibodeaux 397-356.

August's special election will be the second in four years for the city. In May 2017, Patrick Plemel defeated Richard Lehmann 122-86 to represent Ward 4. The election was ordered after Reed Olson won a seat on the Beltrami County Board and vacated the Ward 4 seat.

Before 2017, the last special election in Bemidji was in 2001. Plemel later resigned from the position in December 2017, as he accepted a career opportunity in North Dakota. Following Plemel's resignation, Lehmann was appointed to the seat in January 2018. The council is able to make an appointment to the governing body if less than 364 days remain in a term.

Joint Planning Board enforcement

Another item the council took action on Monday was the decision to hire a compliance and site analyst to enforce rules set by the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board. The cost to the city if hired by May 1, 2020 will be $44,289.33, then for a full year, the position will cost $68,617 in 2021.

"This is a position we've talked about for a couple of months now," said Ward 1 Council member Michael Meehlhause. "Enforcement is something that our JPB staff really struggle with, since they don't always have the time to go out and do it themselves with the amount of planning cases we're seeing in the area the last few years."

"I really do support this position," Erickson said. "We create ordinances and we create rules and we have no one to enforce them. This is a vital position."

The Joint Planning Board is an authority with jurisdiction in both the city of Bemidji and Northern Township.