Bemidji City Council backs down from city manager discussion

After community members criticized the council, a decision was made to back down from a discussion on City Manager Nate Mathews and proceed with a regular annual review scheduled for March 29.

Bemidji City Hall
Bemidji City Hall. Pioneer file photo

BEMIDJI — After community members and former councilors alike attended Monday’s meeting to criticize the Bemidji City Council’s current direction, a decision was made to back down from a discussion on City Manager Nate Mathews and proceed with a regular annual review.

The backlash towards the council came after a surprise addition to the agenda was added to its last meeting on Jan. 17 by At-Large Councilor Audrey Thayer, who made a motion to set a date for a discussion about Mathew’s continued employment.

During that meeting, both the city attorney and some councilors expressed surprise and concern over the addition, and it was ultimately tabled until Monday’s session.

At the start of last night’s meeting, the council chambers held a sizable crowd, many of whom were present to give public comment to the council.

Public response

Among those who attended to share their thoughts on the council’s current direction was Reed Olson, who has previously served as a city councilor and Beltrami County commissioner.


“Blindsiding your colleagues and your staff by adding items of profound importance to the agenda does not promote transparency,” Olson said. “This is not normal. This is not collegiality. This is not how local governance is supposed to work.”

Olson also criticized what he saw as some council members’ treatment of Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera, and the lack of committee assignments she has been given even when they directly pertain to her ward.

“We have open committee assignments right now, (Rivera) has expressed an interest to be on (several committees) but you have blocked her from being there,” Olson said.

Other attendees commented on how the council’s current actions have resulted in a loss of trust from its community, including former mayor Rita Albrecht.

“I’m deeply concerned that this council is not working in the best interest of our community,” Albrecht shared. “Your community is questioning your veracity, your motives, your behavior.”

Other community members echoed these sentiments in their public comments, some of which focused on just how inappropriate they found the previous meeting’s surprise agenda item to be, and their concern that some council members seemed caught off guard by its addition more than others.

When a highly sensitive item is added to the agenda without any notice, it casts doubt on the transparency of the process.

“It was obvious that certain council members, and you Mr. Mayor, knew what was coming,” said Mary Ann Reitmeir in her comments. “You and those who were privy to the conversation were willing to jeopardize constituent and collegial trust.”

Former city councilor Michael Meehlhause also shared comments emphasizing the need for the council to address its dysfunctionality without placing blame on city staff.


“This is a council that lacks vision, lacks leadership. You point the blame at someone else, you point the blame at staff, when you should be looking in the mirror,” Meehlhause said.

After the period for public comment ended, Mayor Jorge Prince thanked everyone for attending and sharing their concerns.

“I want to thank everybody for coming and expressing what’s on your mind and heart,” Prince said. “We always ask people to get involved, and I mean it sincerely.”

Council discussion

When the tabled agenda item came before the council once again, Prince opened with a statement detailing that the original motion made by Thayer was out of order and taking responsibility for letting it pass without correction.

“At the advice of legal counsel, I have determined that the first motion referencing a discussion of the continued employment of the city manager was out of order,” Prince said.

He went on to explain that the original wording regarding “the continued employment of the city manager” was inconsistent with the city charter and open meeting law and that he believed that the desire behind the motion was instead an evaluation of Mathews’ performance.

“It is on me to determine whether that motion was proper, the truth is I should have listened more closely to the motion that was made and should have done something different in regards to that,” Prince shared.

The council was presented with two options, to hold Mathews’ regular annual review, which typically occurs in April, or to hold an additional non-annual review.


Several of the council members expressed a desire to simply hold the usual annual review later this spring, including Ward 5 Councilor Lynn Eaton and Councilor Rivera.

“I would like to hold off to go through the normal procedure for review,” Rivera said.

Other councilors agreed that the regular review should be pursued, but shared their desire to schedule it earlier, if possible, than usual.

“Given everything that has transpired in the last two weeks, I think we have our city wondering what’s going to happen, we have our staff wondering what’s going to happen,” Prince said. “I think the sooner we can resolve that the better it will be for our community.”

Eaton shared that he did not see any reason to hold the review sooner than April, explaining that he didn’t see a need to rush.

Prince replied, while acknowledging his limited ability to elaborate, that he personally did have a sense of urgency behind the review.

“We’re obviously prohibited from talking about specifics of performance review in an open meeting,” Prince explained. “I can tell you that I personally have an urgency.”

Ultimately Mathews’ regular annual review was scheduled for March 29.

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
What To Read Next
Get Local