Non-annual review of Bemidji City Manager lasts 5 hours, ends with no clear resolution

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.

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Bemidji City Manager Nate Mathews, left, talks with attendees outside the Bemidji City Hall chambers as the city council holds a review for Mathews on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

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

Despite the length of the meeting and the fact that the review itself was a closed session, a small crowd of community members, current and retired city staff and former councilors waited outside the chambers through the entirety.

All of this interest, and the review itself, stem from an initial and unexpected motion made by At-large Councilor Audrey Thayer during the council’s meeting on Jan. 17 to add scheduling a discussion on Mathews’ continued employment to the agenda.

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Attendees hear from Bemidji City Council members during a meeting regarding a review of city manager Nate Mathews on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at Bemidji City Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

While the council did back down from this original language during its next meeting, a review of Mathews’ was still pursued, first as his annual review but later altered to an additional non-annual review that was scheduled for March 29.

The meeting began at 5 p.m. with an agenda item to discuss scheduling Mathews’ usual annual review, and Mayor Jorge Prince shared two options that were provided to the council by the law firm Flaherty and Hood regarding the topic.


“We have the option of entertaining a motion to postpone indefinitely the scheduling of the annual evaluation of performance of the city manager, or we could take no action,” Prince stated. “We have been advised by the counsel that if we don’t take action we should say something for the record.”

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Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince, right, speaks during a city council meeting regarding a review of city manager Nate Mathews on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at Bemidji City Hall.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

The statement, which was later read by Ward 4 Councilor Emelie Rivera, outlined that the reason the annual review could not be held during Wednesday’s meeting was because the council and Mathews were not able to mutually agree upon the review process by the scheduled meeting date.

However, rather than go with the statement, the council opted to postpone the review indefinitely after a motion by Ward 3 Councilor Ron Johnson in a vote that passed 4-2, with Ward 5 Councilor Lynn Eaton and Rivera in opposition.

Following this, the council moved into a closed session for a non-annual review of Mathews' performance, which included the council members and legal counsel.

Mathews spent the meeting outside of the review alongside the over a dozen members of the public who stayed throughout the meeting and was informed he would be invited in if his presence was needed.

Watching and waiting

Over the next several hours this group remained at city hall, waiting to see if the council would take any immediate action following the review.

“We’re all watching and waiting,” said Mark Morrissey, who stayed through the meeting’s conclusion. “I’d like to see (Mathews) have a fair shake through this, and that doesn’t appear to be happening.”

Several of those who attended Wednesday’s meetings expressed frustration with how the council has approached the review and Mathews, noting their concerns about transparency.


“This council has been very secretive about what issues they have (with Mathews), in a way that I think is very unprofessional and unfair to Nate,” said Michael Meehlhause, a former member of the city council. “I wanted to come out and be supportive of him and also make sure that this council knows the public is watching.”

Over the hours, the council took several breaks before reconvening in a closed session. At one point when the council was in recess, the entire council remained behind closed doors for an extended period of time, something several members of the public took issue with.

“It’s bad practice to remain in quorum behind closed doors while taking a recess,” Morrissey explained. “This is a mysterious, unfounded process and it's terribly frustrating to watch.”

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Mark Morrissey, center, holds the door open as attendees file into the Bemidji City Hall chambers for a city council meeting regarding a review of Bemidji City Manager Nate Mathews on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. The meeting was later moved to a closed session.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Throughout the discussion of Mathews and his review, no members of the council have provided any explanation of why they have pursued an additional evaluation of his performance.

“I was part of the crew that hired Nate in 2015,” Meelhause said. “I’ve always thought he was a constant professional, really good at his job.”

This sentiment and support of Mathews were echoed by Morrissey.

“I’ve known Nate since I was a kid. He’s handled himself extremely professionally throughout all of this,” Morrissey shared.

Finally, just after 10 p.m., the council reconvened in an open session and adjourned the meeting, but did not provide any further statement.


The council is expected to make a statement about this closed session during its next regular meeting, scheduled for Monday, April 3.

It is not known at this time if the council plans to take any actions related to Mathews' review.

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