BEMIDJI -- Two incumbents on the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners, each seeking another term, and another candidate hoping to join the governing body next year, shared their views on several topics during a Thursday forum.
During the forum, which was organized by the Bemidji League of Women Voters, Districts 2 and 4 Commissioners Reed Olson and Tim Sumner, as well as District 5 candidate and videography professional Mike Bredon answered a list of prepared questions from the public. The questions ranged from environmental policy to communication with other regional entities.
One of the questions was about a more recent matter in Beltrami County, which took place at the beginning of the year. On Jan. 7, the board voted 3-2 to opt out of the United States Refugee Resettlement Program. Voting in favor of the motion to do so were Richard Anderson, Craig Gaasvig and Jim Lucachick. Against the motion were Olson and Sumner.
The vote took place with nearly 200 people in attendance and was made possible by an executive order by President Donald Trump. The order allowed states and counties the authority to opt in or out of the program.
To opt in, a vote was necessary, while opting out could either be done by voting or taking no formal action through January, which would be interpreted as declining. The action later became null after an injunction was issued against the order in federal court.
When asked about his thoughts on the matter, Bredon said it was a "black eye" for the community.
"The thing that got me first interested in looking at the position was that happening, because it was a failure of governance," Bredon said. "It was a situation where misinformation ruled the day, and it was unfortunate. I think that there needed to be an appropriate review with professionals at the podium. Now, we have to improve things by having further discussions about what happened."
In his comments, Olson said the vote was "a stain on us."
"The vote did not reflect the will of the community, nor did the chambers that evening when we did the vote," Olson said. "There were a lot of people who were not from Beltrami County, and that was created by people who used their positions of trust to outright lie to people and make them scared of things that were not happening. I think we can overcome it by being the good people that we are and being welcoming, warm and loving our neighbors."
"Beltrami County often prides itself in being first or the best in a lot of things, but this wasn't one of them," said Sumner on the topic. "Being an Indigenous person from here, I couldn't understand how a group of angry men could come and say 'no, you're not welcome in Beltrami County.' If I'm back on the board, hopefully we can improve those relations, because I want Beltrami to be better. Having diversity helps us."
Shoreland decision making
Another policy related question to the trio was about the county's shoreland ordinance, which has been going through a revision process since 2015. Shoreland along lakes and rivers in Minnesota is managed by township, city and county governments through such ordinances, based on standards created by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Land falling under the ordinances are determined by their proximity to a body's ordinary water level. Beltrami County's ordinance was adopted in 1992 and has been revised five times.
"We've been working on this for the past few years," Sumner said. "There's always two sides to every issue. The ordinance, it's not a perfect document, but it's going to come together so both sides can support it. I'm looking forward to voting on this next year."
In his answer, Olson said he favors revisions, and doesn't want to see protections stripped from the document.
"We haven't updated our ordinance in quite a while and it needs revisions," Olson said. "As we have more development on our lakes, we need to make sure they're being taken care of. We should have made this decision yearsty ago, and we've been slow on it, and there's been chipping away at some of the regulations. I'm worried that when it gets back to us, it will be so watered down that it won't have any meaningful change. We have to protect our waters for generations to come."
"From what I've looked at, I think the shoreland revisions are in order," Bredon said. "I think they have been needed and that it will be good."
Native American government communication
The potential commissioners for the next four years were also asked about relations with nearby Native American tribal governments. Those governments are the tribal councils for the Red Lake Nation, White Earth Nation and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. In their answers, all the candidates said more can be done.
"From the board's perspective, there is precious little communication with the tribal governments," Olson said. "When I go to the Leech Lake State of the Band address, I see band and Cass County board members get along so well. I wish and hope that in the future, we will try to meet more often and find where our common goals lie, and how we can work more efficiently on those goals. But I think we're getting better, I see good things on the horizon."
In his answer, Bredon said he'd like to see a yearly meeting between all of the parties.
"There should be an annual meeting where we all get together," Bredon said. "I think that would be important and we should consider it heavily. There are shared problems and we need shared solutions."
"It's probably not as good as it can be, and that's one of the reasons I ran in the first place back in 2012, to open up those lines of communication," Sumner said. "I would like to have more discussions, not only with Red Lake, but with Leech Lake and White Earth. I think we can make improvements and include the city of Bemidji as well, because there's so much that each group can offer."
Absent from Thursday's forum were the following:
- District 4 candidate and automotive services professional Danny Anderson.
- Incumbent District 5 Commissioner Jim Lucachick.
- District 2 candidate Joe Vene, who served as commissioner 2004-2016.