Springtime fun?

I’m posting this photo here because it makes me smile – and I do not expect that it will get into the Pioneer tomorrow. While I was working around town this morning, kind of whining about the cold and wishing the rain would stop, this little girl pointed out the fun that can be found in springtime rains … if you’re willing to find some appropriate springtime wear.

Pictured is 5-year-old Emma Mutnansky of Cass Lake, who was en route to the Rotary Pavilion at the waterfront today for the Ice Out Ice Cream Social. She almost made it to the pavilion but the puddle, apparently, was too tempting a distraction.

And, yes, she did eventually get some ice cream.

UPDATED: When is Menards opening?

As work has progressed northwest of town, attention has spiked recently at the site of the Bemidji Menards store, partly due to ongoing hiring efforts and the newly placed sign that announcing the business is “opening soon.”

So when is Menards opening?

I traded emails with a spokesman for the company this morning. And he said the business is planned to open in “spring 2011” which could be, technically, any time after March 20, when spring officially begins.

He went on to write that a press release announcing the store opening will be released “soon.”

FRIDAY MORNING UPDATE: I received an e-mail from the city this morning saying the city has heard the business is planning for an April 4 or April 5 opening, confirming those reports below from blog commenters. Thanks to all!

Very random thoughts on hockey, sports and family

It was almost four years ago when I told my dad that my husband and I were thinking about moving to Bemidji.

My dad lives in the Nevis area, so our moving up here from the Twin Cities would have brought us closer to him. But he wasn’t holding his breath or anything. This is the same guy who, sadly, suffered through years of my indecisiveness. For instance, after my first year of college, I announced to him that I was leaving my traditional four-year university to instead become a sign language interpreter. But, sure enough, about 10 weeks later, I was back in Marshall, Minn., balancing tennis and classes just like the year before.

But my husband and I kept talking about Bemidji. And soon I was telling my dad about some big project being debated in town. Something about an events center that would provide a new home for Bemidji State’s hockey team. And then I heard something about WCHA possibilities.

And it was then that my dad got interested.

“Bemidji is joining the WCHA?” I remember him asking me. “The Gophers would come up here?’

Still living in Fridley, Minn., at the time, I just kind of babbled my way through that conversation, not knowing enough about anything.

But I remembered his excitement.

My parents divorced when I was young. I was raised in the Cities while my dad lived most of that time in the Chicago area. I was lucky in that my dad made frequent visits to see me (and my brother). A lot of our get-togethers were spent at various sporting events, including countless Minnesota Twins game and, yes, my first hockey game (he took me a Minnesota Moose game when I was young teen). He also took me to the semifinals of the Davis Cup at the Target Center in 1992.

Sports have, always, been fairly fundamental in our relationship. He taught me most of what I know about tennis, tried for years to teach me golf and still is willing to bait my hook on fishing trips.

So this past Christmas, I bypassed the usual gift options and I promised to bring him to one of the Beavers/Gophers game this past weekend.

It was the first time I have actually been inside the Sanford Center for non-work purposes. I’ve been there more than a few times, for construction tours, for interviews, to just snoop around. But never just for fun.

It was a first.

And it was fun to see it all through fresh eyes through my dad. He noted that there did not seem to be a bad seat in the house. He was impressed by the number of BSU Olympians, the number of championships. I got to answer a few questions, sounding occasionally smart, about the seating capacity, the cost of the arena, etc. We ate some popcorn and I said, next year, I’d buy him a beer.

I wasn’t sure who he would be cheering for between the two teams. I suppose, in retrospect, we cheered more so for BSU.

I was young when he took me to the Davis Cup, never understanding why people were cheering as loudly when Sweden won a point as they did when the American, Andre Agassi, won a point.

“They just want to see good tennis,” he patiently explained.

I think that was how he felt about the hockey Saturday night as well.

Bemidji and transparency in government

I received an e-mail notice today with the agenda of a future city committee meeting.

This is not unusual.

Especially this year.

I do not know who to credit exactly for the change, but this year, particularly, seems to be fostering more transparency with Bemidji city government.

To be clear, I have worked with many cities and counties over my newspaper career. And Bemidji has never been what I would call difficult to cover. In fact, there is only one instance in the last 3.5 years I can remember John Chattin, city manager, giving me a “no comment” to a question and I fully expected that one.

But this year, especially, city staff and city councilors have been remarkably open.

I have always received meeting notices for the more “public” committees, like Parks and Recreation, The Sanford Center Advisory Board, etc., but now I am getting notices, too, about meetings of committees that I have not given a lot of thought to. And even if I don’t cover them, I appreciate knowing of their existence and agenda items.

I also appreciate receiving the minutes from those committee meetings, which are being included in the city manager’s weekly newsletter Friday afternoons. (Actually, I think the minutes were added late last year, but have been expanded to include more committees this year.) It is not physically possible to attend all committee meetings, so I appreciate being able to read about what transpired.

Particularly, I appreciate the administrator’s report from the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board. While I do try to cover most of the JPB and Joint Planning Commission meetings, sometimes it just is not possible. So having access to at least the latest topics is greatly appreciated.

There always is room for improvement, of course, but I think residents should know about the steps that have been taken.

Just my two cents for the day.

2 a.m. – leftover thoughts from last week’s meeting

There was a mini-debate in my e-mail inbox two weeks ago about whether it was noteworthy that one of the people protesting the 2 a.m. bar closing time did not live within the city limits.

Some said, yes, it was important to note that he was not a city resident because he was addressing a city issue. Others said it should not matter because he is part of the greater Bemidji community, which would be impacted by the effects of the later bar closing times.

Well, someone contacted me late last week following the joint meeting between the council and the county board to make a similar point. City Councilor Kevin Waldhausen, during that meeting, stressed that public input can be expressed in different ways, including online on blogs such as this and Facebook groups.

As this caller said, if it is important to note whether people addressing the council are city residents, should it not also be found out whether members of the Facebook group also are city residents?

Waldhausen said there are more than 600 members of the Facebook group that supported bringing Zorbaz to Bemidji.

How many are city residents?

I have no idea.


Also, I was contacted by several readers last week who wanted me to provide – either in print or otherwise – the website for the Facebook group supporting Zorbaz.

I was unable to find it.

I was never a member of the group, but I did occasionally look at the page to read the comments. The last I read, following the council’s 4-3 vote in December, the page was going to be deactivated. I am guessing that happened, since I can no longer find the page. But if I’m wrong, someone please paste the link in the comments section here so I can refer to it. Thanks.


Thirdly, I owe new Councilor Jim Thompson an apology (and a correction).

I wrote in this story (first first of two on the joint meeting) this:

“The City Council is split, but the tally is not officially on record. The council last month voted 4-3 to change the bar closing time, but there now are three new council members, who all spoke against a later bar closing time.”

Well, that’s not accurate.

The new councilors are Mayor Dave Larson and Councilors Rita Albrecht and Jim Thompson.

Larson is against the later bar-closing time.  He talked about how he had been considering the purpose of city and county government. “I believe it boils down to this: We are responsible for the safety, health and well-being of those people that we represent. … In view of that, I don’t find any compelling logic or rationale to allow me to be in favor of this (later bar closing).”

Albrecht spoke out against it, saying that if the city was supporting its Police Department, it would follow the recommendations from the police chief: “It doesn’t make sense to continue down this road.”

Thompson, however, did not state his position one way or another on the issue. Instead, he was the first (of many) who stressed the need for the city’s and county’s ordinances to have the same bar closing times. If the city stays with 2 a.m., he said, he hoped the county would go back to 2 a.m. as well. This would eliminate the potential for rushing from one bar at 1 a.m. to another  bar before a 2 a.m. last call.

I inaccurately stated his position on the matter.

Hasn’t been my best week

Two council stories in two days and two corrections. Not good stats for the reporter. My apologies to all.

First, I mistakenly labeled Steve Fogelson a city resident in this story. While he does own property as a business owner, he does not live in the city limits. I corrected it online and ran a correction today. The distinction is important because many supporters of the 2 a.m. bar closing time have been pointing out that the majority of those who have vocally opposed the later bar time are not city residents.

And then today I learned I completely misquoted Fire Chief Dave Hoefer in this story about paid-on-call fire positions. I put in the print issue that “Hoefer said that previously, the positions were mainly given to POC firefighters based on popularity.”

Um, yeah, that was City Manager John Chattin.

I changed that online, too.

My apologies.

Councilors assigned to committees

The new Bemidji City Council assigned councilors to their respective committees Monday night.

This is a full listing, which is not likely to run in print, just in case someone wants to know who to contact.

Bemidji Regional Airport Authority: Councilors Roger Hellquist and Ron Johnson (alternate is Councilor Kevin Waldhausen).

Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities: City Manager John Chattin and Johnson.

Downtown Development Authority liaison: Hellquist.

DWI Court: Mayor Dave Larson.

Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board: Johnson, Larson, Councilor Greg Negard and Councilor Jim Thompson. (Note: This is interesting in that Thompson is returning to the JPB after having served as a representative for the Northern Town Board.)

Headwaters Regional Development Commission: Johnson.

Heritage Preservation Commission: Thompson and citizen Lou Marchand. (There still is a vacancy available if anyone is interested.)

Housing and Redevelopment Authority: Negard and citizen Diane Morey.

Housing Appeals Board: Councilor Rita Albrecht and citizens David Kloha and Anthony Warno. (There still is a vacancy available if anyone is interested.)

Joint Economic Development Commission: Albrecht.

Joint Planning Commission: Citizens Matthew Dyrdahl and Nicki Lemmer. (There still is a vacancy available if anyone is interested.)

Joint Powers Law Enforcement Committee: Larson and Thompson.

Library Board: Citizens Jody Benshoof and Richard Olson.

Library Board/KRLS Board: Albrecht and Negard.

Merit Hearing Board: Citizen David Kloha.

Old Fairgrounds Land Use: Johnson and Larson.

Parks & Trails Commission: Negard, Waldhausen, and citizens Mary Auger and Karen Rivard.

Public Affairs Committee: Albrecht, Johnson and Negard.

Public Works Committee: Hellquist, Thompson and Waldhausen.

Race Relations Task Force: Chattin.

Revolving Loan Fund: Hellquist.

Sanford Center Advisory Board: Johnson and Negard.

South Shore Proposal Review: Albrecht, Negard and Waldhausen. (Note: Waldhausen was added as a member Monday night. He had served on the committee previously, but Albrecht was proposed to be named to the committee due to her past work experience. Waldhausen said he wanted to continue serving on the committee and the council voted unanimously to name all three to the committee.)

Student Senate Committee: Waldhausen.

Transit – Joint Powers Board: Hellquist, Thompson and citizen Lee Coe.

VisitBemidji Advisory Board: Albrecht.

Youth Advisory Commission: Waldhausen.

*** Also, Hellquist was designated as the mayor pro-tem.

The Pioneer website and news articles

I have just a little while before I am leaving work for the holidays, but this question came up again today. And it was of the more often-asked questions I get, so I thought I would answer it here.

How do you decide what stories get posted online?

As frequent readers of the Pioneer website know, we publish throughout the day several (maybe a dozen?) online stories from around the state and nation, many of which never appear in print in the Pioneer. We also send “news alerts” when such stories are added, which means that for those who have subscribed to the e-mail alerts, they get an e-mail message with the headline of the article and link to the story.

Since I do some of the story postings, I am occasionally asked how we decide what gets posted online. Many of the stories we post are not “local” in that there are not ties to the Bemidji area.

First off, any “breaking” local news is immediately posted online. These involve incidents such as a personal-injury accident, a house fire or another unfortunate situation. If there is something relatively “big” happening in the city, we know our readers expect (or hope) that we have some kind of information, such as when Bemidji High School was evacuated due to the fire two weeks ago or so.

Otherwise, I take a look at regional stories. Such as this story about a Park Rapids teacher. Park Rapids is not in our coverage area, really, but enough people have connections to that area and are familiar with that region that I will, occasionally, post those stories. (Plus, I’ll be honest, I think anytime a teacher brings a gun to school, that is probably going to be a well-read article.)

We also get some stories that are shared throughout our company, Forum Communications, on breaking news-like items, like accidents, fires or crime arrests and sentencings. Generally speaking, our online readers tend to read a lot of such stories, so I will, usually, post these as well.

Beyond that, frankly, readers are left to my whims. I am a former sports reporter so I would probably be more likely to post Vikings stories than, say, another reporter. I also am from the Twin Cities area, so when I read stories about this happening in my hometown, I probably tend to think readers will be more interested than perhaps they are. I have few connections to North Dakota. So I probable have a tendency to downplay how much readers would be interested in North Dakota news. But I’m learning.

So, to summarize, it’s really not a scientific process. Depending on who is updating the website each day, you could get a completely different mix of things to read. We just hope at least some of what we post is interesting to our readers.

And onto new topics: the QNI study

While I would love to write more blog entries about the 2 a.m. bar closing time and keep getting more and more blog hits, I should also focus on some other issues, too.

So let’s talk about last night’s Quality Neighborhood Initiative open house. Did anyone go? What did you think?

I popped in for a quick minute. Covering open houses like that is difficult. So I am working on a follow-up story for tomorrow. I have gone through the whole 148-page draft report (which is actually quite less than that, since about half at the end is an appendix). I liked some parts and need some clarification on a few others.

I know the public has taken a keen interest in the study (nearly 100 people attended the October public meeting). And, from what I’ve heard through the grapevine, last night also had a good attendance.

Updated: Council approves 2 a.m. bar serving time

I promise this is my last blog update for today. I just wanted to include a link to the full article I wrote on tonight’s council decision to allow for a 2 a.m. bar closing time.

Readers will notice that the council did, kind of, end up discussing the 2 a.m. issue. Councilors did not state their positions prior to making their votes, but three councilors later discussed their opinions of the issue right before the council adjourned.

Personally, I would have rather seen councilors state their positions at the time at which they cast their votes – while members of the public were still in the audience – but I did appreciate the comments from Barb, Jerry and Greg (and the mayor, too, although he did not specifically address the 2 a.m. bar closing time).

So that’s enough for one day. Maybe tomorrow there will be more to say.