BEMIDJI -- The special election for Bemidji's at large seat on the council will have two candidates familiar with city politics along with a newcomer.
As of Thursday, candidates for the position include 34-year-old Daniel Jourdain, 75-year-old Dave Larson and 73-year-old Linda Lemmer. The latter two have both either held office or campaigned for city government in the past decade.
Dave Larson, who moved to Bemidji in 2007, defeated Ward 3 Council member Ron Johnson in 2010 to become mayor of the city. After losing his reelection bid to current mayor Rita Albrecht, Larson returned to the council when he defeated Don Heinonen for the at large position in 2014. In 2018, Larson opted not to seek reelection.
Lemmer, meanwhile, ran for the at large position in 2010, but lost to Jim Thompson. Then, in 2017, Lemmer ran for the Ward 4 seat in a special election after it was vacated by Reed Olson, who left after winning a position on the Beltrami County Board. Lemmer was unable to finish in the top two during the primary, though.
Then, in January 2018, Lemmer was an applicant to be appointed to the city's Ward 4 seat after Patrick Plemel, who won the 2017 special election, resigned for a career opportunity. Because there was less than a year left, the council had to appoint a candidate. Out of six applicants, including Lemmer, the council chose former Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann.
Later in 2018, Lemmer filed to run for the Ward 4 seat in the general election, but eventually withdrew her candidacy to support Emelie Rivera, who went on to defeat Lehmann and become the Ward 4 Council member.
Outside of their efforts in city politics, both Larson and Lemmer are retired, with Lemmer having worked for the state of Minnesota in vocational rehabilitation services and Larson having a career as an architect.
Jourdain, meanwhile, is currently employed at the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe as an employment specialist. A resident of Bemidji for nearly six years, Jourdain said he's become more interested in city government since January.
"I've been trying to attend more meetings and go to Bemidji School Board meetings," Jourdain said. "I saw that there needed to be some changes on some of the views that the council has. I felt putting my name on the ballot would be a good way to get some new ideas and more transparency."
One major part of Jourdain's platform is the subject of public safety and policing.
"I believe we need a lot more transparency for the public when it comes to the Bemidji Police Department," Jourdain said. "We want to get more people involved in public safety and for people to be part of it."
As part of that topic, Jourdain said he was interested in an upcoming city council meeting about the creation of a police advisory committee set for Aug. 10.
Jourdain also said he is supportive of encouraging business and economic development, but noted that any such support should include input from the citizens.
"Our biggest challenge right now is citizens not being heard," Jourdain said. "We want people to be able to speak their minds and be involved more with the city."
Running to return
Larson opted to not seek reelection in 2018, but has filed to make a comeback this year.
"With Jim's retirement, I thought it was a good time to pick up some of the things Jim had on his plate and a few of the other issues coming up that are important," Larson said. "I want to be an independent voice on the council. I'm a conservative independent and I don't have a preconceived positional agenda."
In terms of policy, Larson said his main focus as a candidate are "unfunded mandates."
"We have a water issue, it's been mandated and unfunded by the mandators," Larson said. "The same with the wastewater treatment plant needing an upgrade. Those are issues we have to come up with answers for."
Larson is referencing the city's construction of a treatment plant close to the Bemidji Regional Airport to remove chemicals called perfluorocarbons located at Bemidji's nearby water wells. To treat the chemicals, formerly found in firefighting foams, and to meet state standards, the city is building the facility in two phases.
The city will build the initial building and then later work to expand the facility to increase capacity.
In total, the project is estimated at $14 million and the city made a request this year for $8 million from the state. However, after its regular session and two special sessions, the Legislature was unsuccessful in passing a bonding bill which would have included that funding.
The city was also looking for a tax bill from the Legislature this session in order to receive authorization to place a referendum on the November ballot. If approved, the referendum would've added a 0.5% sales tax over a 10-year period.
Revenue generated from the tax would have gone to assist with the cost of the water wells facility, as well as improvements at the wastewater treatment plant and the city-owned event facility, the Sanford Center.
The latter building is managed by the Ames, Iowa-based company VenuWorks and opened nearly a decade ago. The structure includes a 4,373-seat arena and attached conference space.
Regarding the Sanford Center, Larson said, "drive east on First Avenue, look to the left, there's a building there. Whether we like it or not, we own it. We have two choices, we can sit and complain about it, or we can do some brainstorming and see if there's a way we can assist it and enhance it."
Larson also listed economic improvements as a goal if elected.
"We have marginal employment and we need a whole ton of good paying jobs," Larson said. "We need to create an environment in the city that accommodates good businesses, and be careful what we impose on new businesses or existing businesses for that matter."
Oversight on road construction
A main motivator for Lemmer's candidacy are issues related to road construction, she said.
"One of the incentives is a lack of follow through on road construction errors," Lemmer said. "Reierson (Construction) did a wonderful job for the most part, but there are still people with damaged homes who've not had resolutions."
Lemmer was referencing an incident in May 2019 where a water main broke while Reierson was working on a project at the intersection of Second Street and Pershing Avenue. As a result, 14 homes were damaged and since, there's been a back and forth over responsibility, with legal action taken.
In her comments, Lemmer also referenced the Sanford Center as an issue.
"The Sanford Center needs to be raising money, and I'm not sure if a sales tax increase or a hospitality tax would be sufficient to meet those needs, or if we need to have a different style of management," Lemmer said.
Filing for the seat ends at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 11, with the election set for Nov. 3. If no candidate earns more than 50% of the vote, a second election with the top two finishers will take place in early 2021.
The seat is open because Thompson, who did not seek reelection in 2014 and was later reelected to the council in 2018, had to resign from the position this summer because of health reasons.