COMMENTARY: Differing opinions do not equate to dysfunction
Our comments are not directed to mayor Prince or our current city council members. Rather, it is to our fellow former city council members we would like to address.
We are writing in response to the commentary (published Feb. 4) in the Pioneer and public comments by former Mayor Rita Albrecht and former Bemidji City Councilors Reed Olson, Nancy Erickson, Roger Hellquist, Michael Meehlhause and Dan Jordain.
We would have preferred to share our thoughts directly with the former city officials, but unfortunately were not invited to be a part of this select group to express their opinions of the work of the current Bemidji City Council.
Our comments are not directed to Mayor Prince or our current city council members. Rather, it is to our fellow former city council members we would like to address.
We feel strongly that former elected officials collectively commenting on current issues in front of the city council is at very best inappropriate — especially when the former officials do not know the basis or background of why the council is considering the action.
When personnel issues are brought to the attention of the council, for the sake of the employee they are brought to a closed meeting of the city council. That is exactly what the current council was looking to do. Council members are not legally allowed to share publicly the details of their concerns.
Consequentially, there is no way the former mayor and former council members have the knowledge of the basis for the council’s current action. How can former leaders of our community feel compelled to lead a campaign to oppose an action by the current city council without knowing the background or rationale?
We also feel strongly that it was deeply improper for the former officials to actively solicit the input of our city employees. By doing so, they have created or at the very least far-worsened the uncertainty our city employees must now feel. This is not their issue.
In fact, in recent days, a few of us have heard from some city employees who made it clear the written commentary did not speak for them. If city employees want to share their opinions with the mayor and city council, there are avenues for them to do so. They don’t need self-appointed representation from predisposed former public officials.
The insinuation that the action of the current city council was somehow illegal or in opposition to the City Charter is simply not true. Perhaps that is why the commentary and comments to date have not shared how they are illegal or not consistent with the City Charter.
Ironically, former mayor Albrect now sits on the Charter Commission and has collectively stated there was a violation but has not explained what it is. One has to ask, “Why?" The current city council appropriately sought outside legal counsel specifically to ensure they are proceeding properly.
Finally, there have been comments by former city officials that the current city council is somehow dysfunctional because they have split votes. In our view, split votes are actually a sign of a fully engaged council that represents differing community opinions. There are only two ways to ensure only unanimous votes.
One way is to simply not address the difficult issues of the day and focus only on the easy decisions. The other option is to have a regular bonfire (or other such gatherings) where you discuss the issues and decide collectively how to vote prior to the council meeting. The second option is of course illegal and unethical.
Differing opinions do not equate to dysfunction.
As former elected officials, those submitting the commentary have to realize they no longer speak collectively for the community.
This is especially true for former elected officials who have recently lost their various elections by wide margins or who remain personally connected to the employee at hand.
Statements that have been made by the former city officials that start with “The community” fail to recognize the public is fully informed and capable of speaking for themselves, and have the full ability to express their opinions directly to the mayor and city council — their duly elected leaders whose role it is to speak for the community.
We would like to close by genuinely thanking Mayor Jorge Prince and Councilors Audrey Thayer, Josh Peterson, Emelie Rivera, Lynn Eaton and Ron Johnson for their service to our community.
Addressing challenges and issues that were historically pushed off to the future is very difficult. We are grateful for your leadership and are confident you will make decisions based on what you believe are in the best interests of our great city.
This opinion piece was compiled and signed by former Bemidji Mayor and City Councilor Dave Larson and former Bemidji City Councilors Mike Beard and Kevin Waldhausen.