Public comments on Bemidji City Council's actions regarding Nate Mathews
Several members of the community spoke during Monday’s Bemidji City Council meeting on the council’s recent actions and the resignation of Nate Mathews as city manager.
BEMIDJI — Several members of the community stood up for public comments during Monday’s Bemidji City Council meeting, sharing their thoughts on the council’s recent actions and the resignation of Nate Mathews as city manager.
Their comments followed a months-long series of events that included the council pursuing a non-annual review of Mathews that lasted five hours and which did not include Mathews, placing him on leave with the seeming intent to terminate his employment and finally accepting his resignation on Friday, April 14.
Despite the actions by the council, the reasons for these steps have remained vague, citing a lack of communication and loss of trust. Several commenters took issue with this.
“These last three months have been clouded in secrecy,” said Micheal Meehlhause, a former city councilor. “I find your reasons for firing Mr. Mathews greatly lacking. You speak of poor communication when some of you refuse to meet with him. … You blame him for council disharmony when you act in your own self-interest.”
Meehlhause, who was the first to provide public comment during the meeting and was also on the council in 2015 when the city hired Mathews, shared his concern that Mathews was not even present for his own review.
“You spent five hours reviewing his job performance without him, backed into the reasons for firing him, and couldn’t even find the decency to look him in the eye and tell him what would happen — just as some of you are refusing to look at me right now,” Meehlhause said. “In all your hours of conversation, the one person who never got a chance to speak, Mr. Mathews, was the one that deserved to speak the most.”
Meehlhause concluded his comments by stating that the process undertaken to remove Mathews was flawed from the start since it was taken while the council still had a vacancy, ahead of a special election for Ward 1 that took place April 11.
“You denied the good people of Ward 1 a voice. Were there concerns that were truly so urgent that you could not wait for a regular review?” Meehlhause asked.
Other commenters focused on their concerns with how the process was handled.
“The fact that Nate Mathews did not even get to be a part of his review is completely unethical. It sets a bad example,” said Bemidji High School graduate Louis Saxton. “It’s extremely disappointing to see a place I call home just display such a level of immaturity and dishonesty and lack of clarity.”
This theme continued in other comments.
“If you have an employee that needs to be reprimanded, meet with him. If he needs to have some counseling, provide that. If it’s a lack of communication, bring him in for a discussion,” said Jim Perish. “Why that discussion didn’t take place with your employee, I don’t know.”
Following Mathews' resignation, however, Perish acknowledged that at this point he believed it’s best to simply move forward.
“We’ve got to go forward. It’s water under the bridge at this point,” Perish said. “Good luck, I hope everything turns out good for everyone.”
Not everyone who commented was disapproving of the council’s actions, however. Joe Vene, a former Beltrami County Commissioner, shared that he believed the council was acting honorably.
“I commend you for the good work you do and that you exercise your office in the best interest of the public,” Vene said. “For Mr. Mathews, I have nothing but goodwill to share with him, and I have nothing but goodwill to share with all of you. You’re doing well and honorably.”
Following Mathews being placed on leave, City Clerk Michelle Miller is Bemidji’s acting city manager. It’s expected that the city will look to fill the position’s vacancy, but the timeline for when that will begin is unknown at this time.