The Carnegie Library: putting one rumor to rest…

As most people have heard by now, the Bemidji City Council earlier this month voted 6-1 to plan for a future Library Park without the presence of Bemidji’s Carnegie Library, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Since the vote occurred, those who want to keep the 102-year-old structure have been speaking out against the council’s actions. Supporters who want to preserve the building certainly have the right to their opinions – and the argument that we should maintain and preserve historic structures whenever possible is valid.

But to those who are saying that the city would lose revenue if the building were demolished is simply not true. The city does not make any money from the building. The Carnegie is occupied by Bemidji Community Art Center, but the BCAC does not pay rent to the city. They do pay the utility bills. But no rent.

Just thought I would toss that out there.

How do you like living in the city limits?

There are three days left to complete the City of Bemidji’s Resident Survey, which city employees and officials will examine to gauge residents’ opinions about city living.

The survey, which I completed in 3.5 minutes, is online here. The city hopes to get many more responses by the end of this week, and it only takes about five minutes. So if you have the time, let your opinions be heard.

The survey will be available through Friday. You have three days to complete it.

***

On another note, I am back at work (obviously). I took much of the summer off, as you may or may not have noticed.

I stated again Monday, and I have an ever-expanding list of potential story ideas. But if there is anything out there that I might not be aware of, or perhaps something we missed this summer, let me know. I can’t guarantee I can get to it, but I’d love the heads up.

- Bethany

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.

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.

Live blog from council meeting: Council approves 2 a.m. bar serving time

The council has voted 4-3 to allows city bars the option of serving alcohol one hour later.

No discussion was held.

Bars that choose to obtain a state permit will be able to serve alcohol one hour later, until 2 a.m., once the ordinance takes effect.

Voting in favor of the change were Councilors Jerry Downs, Ron Johnson, Greg Negard and Kevin Waldhausen. Opposed were Mayor Richard Lehmann and Councilor Roger Hellquist and Barb Meuers.

My full article will be posted online at www.bemidjipioneer.com and will be in Tuesday’s Pioneer.

More to come.

A 2 a.m. question answered

What if Bemidji does vote to extend liquor hours? And then what happens if Beltrami County then votes to prohibit alcohol sales after 1 a.m.? Does one take precedence over the other?

This has been nagging at me all day. Well, actually, since Sunday.

I was going to just wait until tonight’s council meeting, but after discussing it with a few conversations with people smarter than myself, I decided to find out for certain.

This is what I learned: If the city approves the 2 a.m. bar time and if Beltrami County, after going through its ordinance process, votes to prohibit alcohol sales at county bars after 1 a.m., both ordinances would be in effect. The Beltrami County ordinance would not overrule the city ordinance, so a city bar could remain open until 2 a.m. while a county bar would not.

Again, though, that is based on two relatively large ifs.

Stay tuned.

It’s amazing what you can learn when you read the newspaper…

I don’t often read newspapers on weekends. I kind of take a news break for two days. But on Sunday, my family was going to, finally, finish all of our Christmas shopping. So I opened the Pioneer with the intention of just going through the advertisements and coupons.

But my eye was drawn to this story on the front page, the article I wrote on the retiring three city councilors. I saw that we had run with the story an older photo of Barb Meuers, when I asked specifically last week if we had something more recent, so I was a little perplexed to see the photo that ran.

And, as it happens, when I take one quick glance at the front page, I want to see all of the stories. So I flipped open the whole front page and saw this headline, below the fold: “Beltrami County considers 1 a.m. closing for bars.”

Um, what?

So our shopping excursion was delayed a bit longer as I read the story, written by Brad Swenson, who covers the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners, about a possible Beltrami County ordinance that would prohibit bars in the county from selling alcohol after 1 a.m.

If approved, the county’s ordinance could possibly conflict with the city of Bemidji’s alcohol ordinance. As most of my blog readers know, the city tonight is expected to hold the final reading and vote on an ordinance revision that would allow city bars the option of serving alcohol later, until 2 a.m.

Does that change anything for tonight? I don’t know. But I’m interested to hear if the council addresses it at all.

Special meetings called

The Bemidji City Council will meet Friday afternoon in two special meetings.

First, the council will convene at 5 p.m. as itself to discuss (and, presumably, approve) an amendment to state grant agreements for bonding dollars used to construct the Bemidji Regional Event Center. Then, councilors will consider approving the naming rights contract with Sanford Health for the BREC, which is expected to become The Sanford Center.

Immediately following that meeting, the City Council will convene as the Bemidji Economic Development Authority to also consider the naming rights agreement.

Yes, they held the first step toward approving a 2 a.m. bar closing…

Maybe I have attended too many council meetings. Or maybe I just assumed (bad idea) that readers know what I know. Either way, apparently, I did not make it very prominent news in today’s Pioneer that the Bemidji City Council did, in fact, hold the first reading of an ordinance that would allow for a 2 a.m. bar closing time.

I did a preview on the council meeting for Sunday’s Pioneer, so regular readers (I thought) would be aware that the the item was on the agenda for yesterday’s meeting. And then I included a very brief note in a a very brief story in today’s Pioneer saying the first reading was held.

Why not do more?

Well, I could have. I could have included the one paragraph that the council did hold the first reading and then a whole bunch of repeated information that already has been reported before. But, really, the whole first reading took up all of maybe 2 minutes of the council meeting. In fact, it went by so quickly that I missed it, because someone had come into the meeting a few minutes late and asked me a question about the agenda packet. I actually had to re-watch the 2-minute portion of the council meeting when I returned to the office to make sure that the first reading was, in fact, held.

Not that that is unusual. Most (not all) first readings of ordinances are held without discussion. Sometimes there are ordinances that prompt discussion or debate about definitions or terms (i.e. ordinances that govern the allowance of keeping chickens and farm animals). But, generally, most debate does not occur until the second reading, during which the council holds the public hearing on the proposed ordinance.

So come Dec. 6, I expect more debate. From both the public and the council.

And, really, that is what Councilor Kevin Waldhausen has been seeking from the beginning of this most recent 2 a.m. discussion. Whether you agree with him or not, Kevin all along has said he wants to see the ordinance process through to give the public a chance to voice its opinions.

Sure, the public could have before voiced its thoughts in letters, e-mails and phone calls during the previous work sessions that discussed the 2 a.m. bar closing time. But never before (that I am aware of) has the ordinance process on the proposed change been held. Never before was a formal public hearing held.

And that is slated for Dec. 6.

- Bethany

Plendl Environmental (curbside recycling) update

One of the more fun city stories I have written in recent years was the effort by then-Bemidji State University student Trevor Plendl to start his own curbside recycling business, Plendl Environmental L.L.C.

I wrote a story on the business in July 2009, when he then had 16 customers. Today, he has more than 400.

My interest was again piqued this afternoon when I saw the company listed on the Bemidji City Council’s consent agenda for Monday, when the council will likely approve an agreement that will allow Plendl Recycling to pick up recyclables in the city limits.

City Manager John Chattin writes, “Council action will be a move in the direction of legitimizing the entire realm of existing operation or activities.”

Plendl Recycling filled a void left in 2007, when the city of Bemidji opted to discontinue its curbside recycling program.

- Bethany