Bemidji City Councilors comment on decision to remove Nate Mathews

Mayor Jorge Prince and Councilors Lynn Eaton, Emelie Rivera and Audrey Thayer have responded to public concerns about how the Bemidji City Council has handled Nate Mathews’ removal as city manager.

City of Bemidji web art .jpg

BEMIDJI — Four members of the Bemidji City Council, including Mayor Jorge Prince, have responded to the Pioneer’s requests for comments on the recent removal of Nate Mathews as Bemidji’s city manager.

In their comments, Prince and Councilors Lynn Eaton, Emelie Rivera and Audrey Thayer responded to public concerns facing the council regarding how it has handled Mathew’s removal, which passed in a 4-2 vote during Monday’s meeting.

Of the four who provided comments, Prince and Thayer voted in favor of the preliminary resolution to suspend and remove Mathews, while Rivera and Eaton voted against it.

One of the main allegations facing the council has been a lack of transparency, built on the fact that prior to Monday’s meeting, no reasons had been stated for why the council was pursuing a non-annual review of Mathews.

A review of City Manager Nate Mathews went on for nearly five hours behind closed doors Wednesday night, but ended without a public decision from the council.

“When you’re dealing with personnel data, there are a lot of rules and regulations that come into place about what can and can’t be said in public,” Prince shared, “and those laws exist for good reasons.”


Eaton echoed these reasons and acknowledged the frustration evident in the community.

“I know that the public is upset, and I know that the public wants more information,” Eaton said. “We can’t provide it because it’s a personnel matter.”

Thayer explained that the resolution she read during Monday's meeting outlined as much of the council's basis for the decision as they were at liberty to share.

“We followed the process as we were instructed,” Thayer stated. “The reason (Mathews was removed) was that it was not working for us. That’s all in the resolution that was published.”

Thayer also emphasized that the council's move, while criticized by some in the community, has also received positive feedback.

"It wasn't just all criticism," Thayer said. "I don't want to minimize (those who are critical). They have a right to speak their minds and share how they feel, whether they're in agreement or not."

Rivera shared that she encourages members of the public to be critical of their government and to ask questions.

“The only thing I would have to really say about the whole question of transparency is people should always question the government,” Rivera said. “I appreciate that people care enough to question and be involved.”


She also acknowledged, like Eaton and Prince, that there are some limitations facing the council on what can be shared about recent events.

“Some information is public, some is not. If (people) have questions, there are ways to request information according to the Data Practices Act and what can be shared will be shared,” Rivera added.

A difficult decision

Thayer also shared the difficulty the council faced with the vote, outlining the length of last week's review and discussion.

"Five hours in a closed meeting is a long time," Thayer said. "We were doing everything possible to talk through what was concerning or not concerning the council members."

Prince also shared his belief that each member of the council voted for what they thought was in the best interest of the city and its residents, even if their opinions differed.

“I realize that the council meeting that just took place was a very difficult and challenging one. The council is often tasked with making very difficult decisions and often when we make those difficult decisions it’s not a unanimous vote,” he said. “I think every councilor has the best interest of the city and the citizens at heart.”

Eaton also spoke on the complexity of the decision and expressed a hope that the public would trust that each councilor is acting as best they can.

Despite his vote in opposition to the resolution, Eaton also acknowledged that others might make a different decision from his own.


“The public needs to trust that if they had the information the council has, some of the public may make the same decision the council is at this moment,” he added.

Prince also shared his hope that the council will come together, despite their differences in opinion, to find a path forward in the best interest of the city.

“Once difficult decisions are made, we do work to come together and put the city in the very best position as we move forward,” Prince said. “I believe that’s what we’ll do here.”

What’s next

Since the resolution on April 3 was only preliminary, the process for the removal of a city manager is just beginning. Mathews is currently on leave for 30 days, and it’s expected that the council will bring forward a final resolution during that time.

“This was a preliminary resolution, the council has 30 days to present and vote on a final resolution,” Prince explained. “During those 30 days, the city manager has the opportunity to ask for a public hearing, in which case the council would do that.”

If Mathews requests a public hearing, it could extend the process longer to allow for that to be scheduled. Eaton shared that the ordeal could stretch into May or June.

He also expressed his desire that the process be improved, potentially allowing for changes to the review or removal process.

“We have a process problem here, and we probably need to change some things with the city charter, enable more thorough reviews and that sort of thing,” Eaton said. “That’s part of my concern.”


Prince concluded by saying, “Ultimately, we’re talking about people and we’re talking about a decision that has the potential to impact everyone in the city. That is a serious responsibility, and for my part as mayor, I understand that and I accept that responsibility.”

The Pioneer did reach out to Nate Mathews and the other two members of the Bemidji City Council for comment, but they could not be reached.

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