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.

I feel let down

I will make a full blog post at some point tomorrow. But I just wanted say that I am disappointed in the public hearing tonight, during which 10 people spoke in opposition to the proposed later bar closing. No one spoke in favor. I’m certainly not discounting anything that was said tonight – I think all of those who opposed the 2 a.m. bar closing certainly made worthwhile points – but I was really hoping for a better mix of opinions.

Sure, one could argue that there is not a lot of support for a later bar closing time and that is why no one represented that view. But I know that is not true  – I have seen the e-mails, blog comments, various blog postings. And, there is an entire Facebook group dedicated to generating local support for Zorbaz, and in tandem, the later bar closing time. So I know that is not the case.

So what happened?

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.

BREC and property taxes

Hopefully, this isn’t “old news” – it took me a little while to find the time to write this up.

Councilor Barb Meuers said last week, during the council’s budget work session, that some councilors have repeatedly stated that the Bemidji Regional Event Center’s operations would not raise property taxes.

Her statements addressed the 2011 city budget , which include a $300,000 operating subsidy for the BREC.

“This is why I’ve been voting no all along,” she said.

City Manager John Chattin and Mayor Richard Lehmann disagreed with Meuers, saying that they, all along, have said that the facility would lose money.

So, since then, I’ve done a little research – and this is what I found: (Note: All emphasis added by me, just today.)

- June 10, 2008, Bemidji Pioneer, “South Shore Redevelopment: Project scrapes by,” written by me. (This article detailed the 4-3 vote to approve the funding plan for the south shore redevelopment.)

‘While (City Manager John) Chattin said city staff have developed a plan that would be utilized without raising property taxes, Meuers said she could not put the residents’ property taxes on the line.”

-  The June 9, 2009, minutes – the meeting from which the above article was written (just in case someone wants a source other than my reporting…):

“Chattin reviewed possible sources to cover operating deficits without raising property taxes which include: 1) sale of naming rights ($75,000 to $150,000 annually); 2) charge for parking during events; 3) increase ticket surcharges; 4) dedicate savings from the creation of an airport authority to the center; 5) dedicate a portion of the $150,000 savings from reorganization of the wastewater treatment facility; 6) reassess the need to continue city arena operations (Chattin noted that the City arena loses over $100,00 annually plus ongoing capital needs); 7) develop the old fairgrounds site, with the county and split lease revenues; 8) find additional opportunities for advertising revenues, i.e., scoreboard, sponsorships, etc.; 9) lease any unused office space; 10) increase the current hospitality tax to cover promotional costs included in the budget; and 11) pursue corporate pledges.”

- Jan. 11, 2008 Bemidji Pioneer, “Financial strategies planned to not affect taxpayers,” again, written by me:

“The event center project team, which consists of representatives from city staff, Headwaters Regional Development Commission and the design team, has developed funding strategies for the events center that do not rely on taxpayer dollars.”

- From the city’s Frequently Asked Questions about the BREC, which were released in September 2008.

First set of FAQs: Question: “I’m told the BREC will operated at a deficit. how will the city cover that cost?

Convention, Sports, and Leisure, our consultants, suggest that an operating loss is inevitable for this facility. However, there are many possible revenue streams identified by CSL that could mitigate those losses. We should also consider the economic impact to our region generated by this facility and what that is worth. The city operates many facilities, none of which make a profit (except for our liquor stores). Parks, arenas, streets, and other facilities all have a cost associated with them. So will the BREC. It will be the city’s goal to operate the facility as efficiently as possible and minimize any loss. City staff have also identified other revenue sources and expenditure reductions that could help cover operational deficits. The goal is to prevent, or minimize, any increase in property taxes.

Second set of FAQs:

Question: “How will the city pay for … deficits?

“Possible sources to cover operational deficits may include, but are not limited to, the following:

“Airport contribution – As the airport moves towards a stand alone taxing authority, the city could reallocate its $180,000 annual contribution to BREC operations.

“Arena – The future of the City Arena should be examined. The Arena has annual operating deficits of $90,000, plus on-going capital requirements.

“Sell/Lease old fairgrounds property – Jointly develop site with Beltrami County and split the sale or lease revenue.

“Sale of Naming Rights/Parking Fees/Ticket Surcharge/Budget Mandates – These opportunities are described in detail in the CSL report and could generate from $80,000 to $303,000 annually.

“Property Taxes – Should all other funding sources fail to cover operational deficits, the last resort, and least favorable remedy, remains property taxes. The extent of tax increases, if any, would depend on how revenue sources and operational projections materialize”

OK, back to present time.

I have a few thoughts.

The oft-referenced CSL study details anticipated deficits for the BREC. But one should note that the operational assistance needed is quite different when one considers the early start-up years versus later years (i.e. after year five), when the BREC is stabilized.

The CSL study, done in April 2008, shows an expected base stabilized deficit of $436,000.

As Councilor Ron Johnson noted lasted Monday, the city now is anticipating needing only about $300,000 for assistance in 2011, which is in line with the best-case scenario CSL presented.

Projections at this point are “conservative at best,” Johnson said, noting that  budget figures do not include any revenue brought in from naming rights (which are still planned to be sold); include non-sold-out hockey games, (when many already have sold out); and there is a community fund available, totaling about $70,000, to assist with deficits.

Further, Johnson argued at the BREC would generate additional development, such as the two planned hotels in the area, that would help relieve any tax burden.

election season begins…

Tomorrow marks my third anniversary with the Pioneer, but this is actually my first full election season here. I was kind of here for the 2008 elections, but I missed a big chunk – including the primary portion – as I was on maternity leave. I returned in time for the general election, but I still missed quite a few of the debates.

Elections, as with budgets, are not always fun to cover – but I most often do enjoy them. Anything that breaks up weekly routines is appreciated.

Anyhow, we’ve gotten a few calls this week on how we will be covering elections and when we are going to start interviewing candidates and such. So I thought, perhaps, I could explain a bit about our process moving forward (which, by the way, could change – you just never know).

First, it’s important to note that election season started prior to filing actually opening. Some potential candidates sent notices/press releases announcing their intentions to file for office (i.e. current Councilor Ron Johnson, who is running for mayor).

We ran those press releases as we received them.

Then filing opened. (I should note at this time that filing was May 18 to June 1 only for those races that had the possibility of primaries; another round of filing will be Aug. 3-17 for those races – such as Bemidji School Board – that do not have primaries.)

Throughout the filing period, I ran notices of candidates who filed for the council, pretty much daily. Or, more accurately, whenever there was at least one new candidate.

But also during this time period, I continued to receive press releases from candidates announcing their campaigns. We ran these, too, when they were received (such as those from council candidates Jim Thompson and Rita Albrecht).

But there are plenty of candidates that we have not run press releases on – and that, simply, is because they have not submitted anything. If a candidate chooses to submit a press release, we will continue to run them. (However, we probably would just run one announcement per candidate – we don’t need weekly updates. At least not for print. Candidates are welcome to send me as much information as they want – I just may not run it in the newspaper. Might make good blog topics though…)

But, for now, no, I am not doing interviews with candidates. Of course, any candidate is always welcome to call and talk to me or set up an appointment to come in and talk, but, at this point, it would be more of a conversation for background information than a formal interview.

So those are my thoughts.

And, in case someone wants yet another list of council candidates, here you go:

Bemidji mayor

- Ron Johnson

- David Lalone

- Dave Larson

- Laverne "Pedie" Pederson

- Adam Steele

Ward 2 councilor

- incumbent Roger Hellquist

- Reed Olson

- Richard Sathers

Ward 4 councilor

- Rita Albrecht

- incumbent Jerry Downs

at-large councilor

- Linda Lemmer

- Byron Rock

- Jim Thompson

Want information on joint planning office? Come to Thursday’s forum.

I was called to the front desk earlier last week to assist a gentlemen who wanted some information on the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board. He was an area resident and was trying to gather some research. So I walked him back to my desk, where we talked and did a little bit of online searching.

The man, whose name I did not catch, had some concerns about the joint planning office having taken over development and enforcement of zoning regulations in the city and Bemidji and Northern townships.

"You guys haven’t written about this," he said, referring to the Pioneer.

And I just kind of blinked at him. I mean, no reporter really expects a ton of people to read every word that he or she writes in every issue. But you kind of hope that even if someone doesn’t read much more than a headline here or there, the reader would at least understand the overall issues facing the city (i.e., right now, I would hope that even the most casual reader knows what BREC and LGA stand for, maybe even understand how LGA impacts your local city budget).

I explained to him that, yes, the Pioneer has been covering the JPB since its inception more than two years ago. But more than that, I explained, we covered the early, sometimes tense meetings between city and township officials that eventually led to the creation of the joint planning office.

It’s been more than five years, I said.

The man was very nice, and we had a fairly pleasant conversation (I think). He said he regularly reads the Pioneer and was aware of the annexation plans between the city and townships, but, he explained, he had not think we covered anything in regards to the JPB and zoning regulations. We did a quick search in our online archive system and he left with a list of newspaper dates.

I instantly thought of him Thursday, when I received the press release from the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, which is hosting an open forum from 4-5:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall with the JPB to discuss the joint planning venture, its history and process. The main focus is planned to be on business owners who want to ask questions.

‘Should be a good meeting’

In the city’s Weekly Newsletter Friday afternoon, City Manager John Chattin predicted (of last night’s budget work session), "This should be a good meeting as we consider the future of city services."

And, in my opinion, it was easily that.

I’ve covered probably about a dozen Bemidji budget meetings since I came to the Pioneer. It might even be more than that, but they all kind of run together.

Except for one. The meeting of Aug. 10. That meeting, as you may recall, had been announced to be a meeting dedicated to the consideration of a budget and preliminary tax levy for 2010. Discussion, at some point, took a different path. And a motion to eliminate the city’s community development director position (i.e. Rita Albrecht’s position) soon passed 4-3.

I was unprepared that night. I didn’t grab a work camera before the meeting (I rarely did back then). I just happened to have my own point-and-shoot in my purse, so I did get a photo.

To this day, I still get a little dizzy remembering how the council, seemingly so quickly, went from discussing the 2010 budget to eliminating a rather high-profile position.

So, given Chattin’s "preview" (I, in all honesty, took it as a warning and made sure to have extra camera batteries), I headed to City Hall a little earlier than usual last night, aimed for the conference room.

Instead, I made it as far as council chambers before I realized the meeting would take place in there, around long tables. It took me a few seconds before the realization came: The department heads are going to be present.

Soon after, the meeting began. Councilors began asking questions. And, rather than Chattin answering on their behalf, department heads themselves were able to directly address councilors’ questions. I must say, despite the rather complicated and, well, icky task of cutting the city’s budget by more than $213,000 for 2010 and $380,000 for 2011, the meeting went fairly smoothly.

Which leads us to my question for today: Do you think, maybe, it would be a good idea to have department heads at all council meetings? Or not?

- Bethany

P.S. For anyone who is wondering: Yes, there was a LOT more discussion on the budget than what appeared in my Pioneer article today (http://www.bemidjipioneer.com/event/article/id/100017367). There is another article running tomorrow.

Some further thoughts on Chief Bemidji

I was very young when my grandmother walked out of a sandwich shop in the Twin Cities. Grandma Abe (Abraham, maiden name Flammini) was visiting from Chicago when she and my mother decided to get some lunch. She was absolutely appalled when she saw on the menu a sign for a Dago sandwich, which was the given term for an Italian-style sub of some sort. And she walked out. Quickly. But not before telling the shop’s owner how she felt.

I’m white, Caucasian, whatever you want to call it. I’m a mix of Italian, Norwegian and German heritage (I think). So to say that I completely understand the issues surrounding the Chief Bemidji statue would be false. I don’t. But I believe I could, probably fairly, lump it with other issues surrounding cultural insensitivities (i.e. my grandmother’s Dago issue, ongoing sports team name debates, etc., etc.).

In today’s Pioneer, I ran two articles on the Chief Bemidji committee that is looking into the future of the statue and whether it could, or should, be replaced with something perhaps more respectful of the man’s legacy. Typically, I would have combined the two stories into one longer report, but I didn’t feel the mission and goals of the committee tied in too well with the council discussion from Monday’s meeting. (Committee story is online at http://www.bemidjipioneer.com/event/article/id/100016960/: council story is online at http://www.bemidjipioneer.com/event/article/id/100016962/).

I also posted online just this morning a a story that Molly wrote in 2004, 100 years after Chief Bemidji, or Shaynowishkung, died. The article and accompanying photos can be found at http://www.bemidjipioneer.com/event/article/id/100016970/.

In the few conversations I’ve had and the opinions I’ve read, I don’t think anyone is trying to diminish the work that went into the current statue, which was done by retired Lumberjack Eric Boe in 1952. But, rather, some feel the current statue is, perhaps, "cartoonish" and could be replaced with a new statue that would more accurately represent life and legacy of Shaynowishkung, who became known as Chief Bemidji.

I "stole" these two images from the Chief Bemidji committee’s blog (chiefbemidji.blogspot.com). The first is an 1890-era photograph of Shaynowishkung. The second is the current statue.

The committee is hoping to secure grant dollars that would fund a new statue, possibly a life-sized bronzed likeness of Shaynowishkung.

"This new representation would depict him in a dignified and respectful way, honoring the man and his legacy," the committee wrote in an explanation of the project.

A few months ago, my husband said, "If someone would have told me 10 years ago that Brett Farve would be playing for the Vikings and we’d have a black president, I’d have laughed at him."

Times change.

The question now becomes is it time for a new Chief Bemidji statue?

*** Note: After talking a bit with my editor, Molly shared with me that Sleepy Eye, Minn., previously went through a similar project. In July 1994, the town became the first in the nation to have a full-sized bronze statue of an American Indian in true likeness. The 8-foot-tall "Chief Sleepy Eye" (Ish-Tak-Ha-Ba) sculpture was done by JoAnne Bird, a member of the Wahpeton-Sisseton band of Dakota Native Americans, which is the same band as Ish-Tak-Ha-Ba.

This is the portrait the sculpture was based on:

This is the finished sculpture:

OK, that’s all I’ve got on this for now.

Your turn: Is it time for a new Chief Bemidji statue? Or do you like the one that is there now?

- Bethany

More on parking from the JPB meeting

Here’s a little bit more on the driveway discussion from last night’s Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board meeting. The JPB decided to recommend some changes to a section of its ordinance that would have required paved driveways for most residential parcels if a major improvement was made to the building or lot or if the residence was converted to a rental. The changes would not have applied to lots with more than 1 acre of land.

I didn’t want to spend too much time in the article that ran today (http://www.bemidjipioneer.com/event/article/id/100016756/) on the pros and cons of paved driveways since it sounded like JPB members wanted to add some flexibility into that requirement.

But there was definitely some good discussion.

Parking issues have long been discussed in Bemidji, from what I understand. I know in my 2 1/2 years here, I’ve heard those concerns come up several times at council meetings and various committee groups. And, like Mel Milender said last night, most of the residential parking issues seem to be directed at rental properties.

But, as Milender also noted, parking issues are not all confined to rental properties.

"The other main (area of concern) was when new homes are built and don’t have paved surfaces, the deterioration around the neighborhood is much quicker," Milender said.

JPB members recognized that there are problems with parking throughout the JPB’s coverage area, but said there had to be some flexibility for homeowners.

Specifically, JPB members asked if gravel could be included as an option in addition to "bituminous, concrete, pavers" surfaces required for driveways.

But Milender said that would be a return to the current parking requirements.

He agreed that gravel can certainly be aesthetically pleasing, but said the current parking requirements are not resulting in nicely maintained – or defined – parking areas.

JPB member Clark Chambers said he had a paved driveway along a gravel road, which resulted in problems. Due to weather and street maintenance, the gravel would be pushed onto the driveway and then end up in the lawn, which resulted in the deterioration of the lawn.

"It’s extremely difficult to deal with a paved driveway on a gravel road," he said.

Milender said the JPB should also consider what its goals are for the future of the community. He noted that city residents who live along dirt roads object to having to pay assessments for paving their roads, but having paved driveways make it easier to rationalize the improvements.

"It’s the chicken and the egg theory," he said.

JPB member Richard Lehmann suggested that the parking standards should define a difference between a parking lot and a driveway and handle their standards differently. He noted that he has different driveway surfaces for different garages at his home.

"We need to have some flexibility in there," he said.

What do you think?

- Bethany

Bemidji to get new mayor

Bemidji is poised to have a new mayor in 2011.

As you’ve probably heard by now, Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann announced this past weekend that he is going to run against Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, for the Minnesota House 4A seat. (If this is news to you and you want to learn more, you can read Political Editor Brad Swenson’s article on the announcement at www.bemidjipioneer.com/event/article/id/100016614)

The city’s mayoral position is a two-year term, which means that if Lehmann wanted to hold onto his seat, he would have had to run for re-election this year. A candidate cannot file for multiple seats at once (i.e. you can’t run for Bemidji mayor and state House simultaneously); thus, Lehmann will step down as mayor at the end of this year whether he wins the 4A seat or not. (Although he could always run again for mayor in a later year, if he were to choose to do so…)

There are three other council seats (four-year terms) up for election this year: Ward 2, currently represented by Councilor Roger Hellquist; Ward 4, currently represented by Councilor Jerry Downs; and the city’s at-large council position, currently represented by Councilor Barb Meuers. While those three would be unable to file for both re-election and the mayoral position, any of them could choose to run for the mayoral position and just give up their current council seat.

Current city councilors whose seats are not up for re-election also could choose to run for mayor (Ron Johnson, Greg Negard and Kevin Waldhausen). But, if any of those three men were to run and win the mayoral election, he would have to resign from his councilmember seat.

Of course, we won’t know for several months yet who actually files for City Council. Council filing is later this year.

But the council will change, we know that for sure now following Lehmann’s announcement.

That makes this election season, perhaps, even more interesting. Will we have a completely new mayor? Someone not now on the council? Will a sitting city councilor be "promoted" to mayor? Will former Ward 5 Councilor Nancy Erickson, who lost to Lehmann in the 2008 elections, try again?

I certainly don’t know. Sure, I’ve heard a rumor or two in the last few months, but I don’t know anything officially.

Do any of you readers out there have any thoughts?

- Bethany

Reporter’s note: Apparently my info is old. I thought filing was July 6-20, but that has changed. Read comments for more info. on filing dates.