Nate Mathews removed from duties as Bemidji City Manager
In a fraught meeting, the Bemidji City Council voted 4-2 in favor of placing City Manager Nate Mathews on leave and removing him from employment by the city.
BEMIDJI — In a fraught meeting and with an audience to witness, the Bemidji City Council voted 4-2 in favor of placing City Manager Nate Mathews on leave and removing him from employment by the city.
The decision came during Monday’s council session, which was only days after a closed, five-hour, non-annual review on March 29 held by the council that evaluated Mathews’ performance.
Per statute, the council was required to summarize the conclusions of this review during its next open meeting, if any had been drawn.
The reading of this summary was opposed by Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera on Monday, who made a motion to remove the item from the agenda and stated that no conclusions had been drawn. However, this motion was defeated in a 4-2 vote, with all but Rivera and Ward 5 Councilor Lynn Eaton in opposition.
Following this failed motion, Mayor Jorge Prince asked whether anyone on the council wanted to add a discussion on a preliminary resolution related to the review on the agenda. This preliminary motion was later revealed to be regarding Mathews’ employment.
This motion passed 4-2, with Eaton and Rivera opposed. Prior to the final approval of the agenda, the meeting was placed in a short recess to allow City Clerk Michelle Miller to recover from the emotions of the discussion.
After the direction the meeting was going became clear, one member of the audience spoke during the period allowing for public comment.
While skirting the line of commenting on a topic on the agenda, Mary Ann Reitmeir expressed her disappointment with the council’s actions and how they have handled the discussion around Mathews’ review, which first began in January and has remained a contentious and hotly debated topic among the public.
“I voted for the three of you, Mr. (Ron) Johnson, you Mayor (Jorge Prince), and Ms. (Audrey) Thayer. I won’t do it again,” Reitmeir said. “I expect you, the people I voted for, to be trustworthy, and respectful and conduct yourself in all business here as elected representatives with courtesy and integrity and an ethical approach.”
The reasons for Mathews’ removal were included both in the summary of the review’s conclusions and in the eventual preliminary resolution that placed him on leave, which was read by At-large Councilor Audrey Thayer as follows:
“I’m making a motion of a preliminary resolution of the city of Bemidji to remove and suspend City Manager Nate Mathews… Now therefore be it resolved by the city council of the city of Bemidji, the following: City of Bemidji City Manager Nate Mathews is hereby suspended from duty with the city of Bemidji with pay and benefits, effective upon approval of this resolution by the city council.
“City of Bemidji City Manager Nate Mathews is removed from employment with the city of Bemidji, effective May 3, 2023, which would be his last date of employment with the city of Bemidji, subject to any modification of such based on rights of the city manager under city charter.
“The city council determines that the reasons for the removal are as follows: City council members have lost confidence and lack trust in City Manager Nate Mathews’ ability and willingness to completely and effectively be the chief administrative officer of the city, be responsible to the council for the administration of the city’s affairs and move the city forward.
“This loss of confidence and lack of trust has primarily resulted from: City Manager Nate Mathews’ certain insufficient, untimely, unclear, selective and unprofessional communications with city council members, city employees and the public on substantive city business, concerns expressed about such communications and related conduct by members of the public and others with whom the city works with, City Manager Mathews’ reluctance to sufficiently, completely and uniformly communicate with city council members on all substantive city business and comply with city council direction.
“The foregoing has resulted in disharmony between and among City Manager Nate Mathews and the city council and not being able to work effectively together. The foregoing has an adverse impact on and substantially impairs city administration and city council morale, operations of the city and the city council’s ability to establish policy.
“The city council determines it is in the best interest of the city of Bemidji that City Manager Nate Mathews no longer be employed as city manager with the city of Bemidji.”
This resolution, which places Mathews on leave for 30 days prior to the eventual termination of his employment, was passed 4-2, once again with Rivera and Eaton in opposition.
Prince and Eaton were selected as the points of contact for Mathews through the termination process. The duties of the city manager have been assigned to Miller during Mathews’ leave and the position’s vacancy, with her receiving the same level of payment as Mathews.
Mathews has been employed as the city manager of Bemidji since 2015. Prior to his position in Bemidji, he served as the city manager of Staples for eight years.
The Pioneer reached out to all members of the council for comment, but they either could not be reached or declined to comment.