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Bemidji City Council calls for special election to fill Ward 1 vacancy

After swearing in the winners of the 2022 election, the Bemidji City Council called for a special election to be held on Tuesday, April 11, to fill the Ward 1 vacancy.

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From left, Councilors Audrey Thayer, Josh Peterson and Emelie Rivera get sworn in prior to a Bemidji City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, at City Hall.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — The Bemidji City Council has called for a special election to fill its Ward 1 vacancy after Audrey Thayer, who formerly represented that ward, was sworn into her new position as Bemidji’s At-Large councilor on Tuesday.

As the first session of the year, the city council held a ceremony swearing in each of the winners of the November general election. These included the races for Ward 2, which Josh Peterson ran for unopposed, and Ward 4, which saw a victory for incumbent Emelie Rivera.

Former Ward 1 Councilor Audrey Thayer was sworn in Tuesday as Bemidji’s new At-Large councilor, in the conclusion of a race that originally saw three sitting city council members running against each other.

As she takes on her new position as the At-Large councilor, however, Thayer also leaves her original seat representing Ward 1 empty, which will require a special election to be held in the spring.

The filings for the 2022 race for the Bemidji City Council’s At-Large seat were somewhat surprising to the general public. As expected, then-incumbent Daniel Jourdain ran for reelection, but in an unusual turn of events, both of his opponents were fellow city council members: Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson and Thayer.

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Johnson, who has been on the council since he was first elected in 2000, had been recently redistricted out of Ward 3, meaning that he would no longer be eligible to run for reelection for his current seat. Because of this, he filed for the At-Large position in the 2022 election.

In a contentious meeting on Monday night, the Bemidji City Council voted to reject, before reconsidering and adopting, a map for redistricting the city’s wards.

Thayer, meanwhile, who was elected to the council in 2020, explained her decision to run for the city’s At-Large position by sharing that she already felt that she was doing the work representing all of Bemidji’s wards, and wanted more time than her remaining term would have allowed to work on challenges facing the city.

In the primaries, held in August, Thayer and Johnson moved forward to the general election, meaning that regardless of who eventually won the race, Bemidji would have a vacant seat on the city council at the start of 2023.

Ultimately, November’s election saw Thayer take home a narrow victory, beating Johnson by just 53 votes and leaving Bemidji’s Ward 1 as the vacant seat going into the new year.

To fill this vacancy, the first item on the Bemidji City Council’s agenda on Tuesday was to call for a special election to be held in April, the earliest possible date based on state law.

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Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera takes her seat next to Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson after getting sworn in for another term on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, at Bemidji City Hall.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

“Pursuant to Minnesota statutes and election laws, we are subject to only certain days we can hold special elections,” City Clerk Michelle Miller explained. “The special election could be held at the earliest on Tuesday, April 11.”

Holding the special election in April would accommodate absentee voting and the other timing requirements of state election laws.

The council's six members unanimously approved April 11 as the date for the special election, with the corresponding filing period that will open on Jan. 31 and run through April 11. If a run-off election is required, it would be scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 8.

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A Bemidji city council meeting is underway after Ward 2 Councilor Josh Peterson, At-Large Councilor Audrey Thayer and Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera are sworn in on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, at Bemidji City Hall.
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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