BEMIDJI -- A group of five candidates vying for two seats on the Bemidji City Council answered a variety of questions Tuesday evening during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters .
The inquiries were made by the League of Women Voters, allowing city candidates to describe their platforms. During the forum, candidates for Bemidji Ward 1 and the at-large seat were present.
The candidates included:
- Joe Gould, a teacher at Voyageurs Expeditionary School and candidate for Ward 1.
Audrey Thayer, an instructor at Leech Lake Tribal College and Ward 1 candidate.
- Daniel Jourdain, an employment specialist for the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and candidate for the at-large seat.
- Linda Lemmer, a retired resident who worked for the state in vocational rehabilitation services and an at-large seat candidate.
- Roger Schmidt, a retired citizen who worked as an educator for more than 30 years, including as a superintendent, and at-large candidate.
While the Ward 1 race was always scheduled for November 2020, the election for the at-large seat was added mid-year. The seat was vacated in June, when Jim Thompson resigned because of health reasons. Because Thompson was elected in 2018, the winner of the special election will hold the office through 2022.
Like the General Election, the special city race will be held 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.
For Tuesday's forum, candidates running in either race were each asked a variety of questions, ranging from impacts related to the coronavirus to economic development. On the latter subject, Lemmer was asked about improving relations between the city and the business community.
"The business owners I've talked to have not expressed any complaints about how the city has been operating," Lemmer said. "I'd need to talk to the businesses about what adversity they've been met with, because I can't address an issue I'm not cognizant of where the beginning and end of the issue is."
In his remarks related to the business community, Gould said he would be a council member that advocates for economic development and listens to ideas.
"I will listen to what our neighboring Native American tribal councils and other community members have to say regarding ideas for business expansion and bringing jobs to the area," Gould said. "I think the city council should encourage small business expansion and advocate for good paying jobs to come to our area."
For his response to a business related question, Jourdain also said communication is key.
"When we come together as a city council, and we bring our ideas together and find out what works best for our citizens, I believe there is a bright future for our city with higher paying jobs and more tax dollars to the city base," Jourdain said. "Working together and creating partnerships, that's what's going to sharpen Bemidji's image. Building bridges of communications will create a better Bemidji in the long run."
One of the subjects in a question toward Schmidt on Tuesday was how the city can support the economy during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In his comments, Schmidt said distribution of federal assistance packages like the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act is pivotal.
"Revenue was sent out through the CARES Act and we got a little over a million dollars to help offset those impacts," Schmidt said. "The situation is that about two thirds of that has been used up by the council. One of the things that could be considered is that, because some businesses have been closed for a period of time, to refund some of the license fees that they have to pay while they're closed."
During the forum, one of the questions Thayer was asked about how the city can support affordable housing in the community.
"For affordable housing, to begin with, I'd like to become familiar with the landlords in the community so we can look at what we currently have," Thayer said. "I'm aware that we need more housing, so I'd like to ask the community what they need and what they're looking for. It's definitely an issue for the city council. Affordable housing is going to be necessary for us to continue functioning well."
Candidates not present at Tuesday's forum were:
- Nancy Erickson, a retired accountant and incumbent Ward 5 Council member.
- Don Heinonen, a shop fleet manager for a fiber optic company and candidate for Ward 5.
- Greg Kuhn, an asset manager at Peterson Sheet Metal and candidate for Ward 3.
- Ron Johnson, the promotion manager for Lakeland PBS and incumbent Ward 3 Council member.
- Dave Larson, a retired architect who served as mayor from 2010-2012 and held the at large seat from 2014-2018. Larson is an at large candidate.