COMMENTARY: Former city council members support Bemidji City Manager

When a highly sensitive item is added to the agenda without any notice, it casts doubt on the transparency of the process.


Most people don’t pay close attention to local government. They want their city to be run efficiently, keep their taxes low and make sure their street is plowed.

So, when something unexpected happens at a city council meeting as it did on Jan. 17, most people wouldn’t notice. At that meeting, a last-minute addition to the agenda to dismiss the city manager took the public, city staff and some members of the council by surprise.

When a highly sensitive item is added to the agenda without any notice, it casts doubt on the transparency of the process.

As former city council members and mayor, we strongly oppose the current council’s actions.

The rules governing the city of Bemidji are spelled out in state statute and the City Charter, our local government’s guiding document.


Bemidji has a council-manager form of government. That means the council makes policy decisions, and the city manager is responsible for the day-to-day administration and provides the council with information and guidance.

Historically in Bemidji, the mayor and council work closely with the city manager to create a genuine partnership and team with clear goals and achievable measures of success.

Threatening, in an open meeting, to dismiss the city manager goes against statutory guarantees for employee right to privacy and it goes against the Bemidji City Charter, which outlines the procedure to deal with the city manager including a 30-day waiting period and the employee’s right to a public hearing.

Without question, Nate Mathews is an excellent city manager. Some of his accomplishments include redeveloping several parks, adding two fire halls, renovating the Carnegie Library, updating our wastewater treatment center and helping the city solve our contaminated drinking water issues.

In the community, Mathews helped start Mississippi Music, performs music at his church and supports his kids’ activities at Bemidji High School.

Now is not the time to create chaos at city hall. There are looming projects and issues that will require the city to be fully staffed: redeveloping the rail corridor with a wellness center, managing the future of joint planning, overseeing partnerships with local governments for housing and services like the opportunity to revitalize Ridgeway housing and more.

Creating a void in leadership will slow project activity and bring initiatives to a crawl. Finding a new city manager is a costly and lengthy process with no guarantees of success.

The recent council threat of action against the city manager has upset staff and department heads. If current council members were to poll them, as we did, they’d find they’re angry at the council for considering this action.


Department heads support the city manager and want him to stay because Mathews is a leader who supports them and empowers our more than 100 city employees.

We believe this attack against Mr. Mathews is short-sighted, unprofessional, wrong and not in the best interest of the city.

We advise the council to avoid a knee-jerk reaction, slow down and get all the facts before making a decision that will put the city at risk.

Talk to city department heads and community partners. But most importantly, follow the process. The city manager deserves fair treatment and the community deserves a council that makes decisions based on facts, not on rumors or personal vendettas.

We hope the city council will consider all the potential repercussions of their actions. Acting in good faith by being transparent and following the procedures laid out in the City Charter should be their top priorities.

As elected officials with more than 50 years of combined service who have worked with the city manager, we solidly stand behind Nate Mathews and his job performance in Bemidji.

Mathews’ dedication and commitment to the Bemidji community can’t be matched. We sincerely hope that he will continue to serve the Bemidji community for many years to come.

You may not think that recent actions by the city council affect you personally. The thing is, keeping good government relies on engaged citizens.


As former members of the Bemidji City Council, we want you to pay attention now and hold our council accountable. We urge you to contact the city council to express your support for Mr. Mathews.

This opinion piece was compiled and signed by former Bemidji City Council members Nancy Erickson, Roger Hellquist, Reed Olson, Michael Meehlhause, Dan Jourdain and former mayor Rita Albrecht.

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