Two recent articles continue to make a person scratch their heads in regards to our Bemidji City Council. On Aug. 10th at a work session 4 City Council members decided the best way to help the $6 million dollar deficit faced by the city in 2010 was to eliminate the Community Development Position held by Rita Albrecht for 15 months saving $57,000. On Sept. 8th, our City Council authorized a Request for Proposal to hire a consultant to lead an 8 month Quality Neighborhood Initiative Study. This study is a result of the attempted moratorium on rental units and to try to solve some of the issues associated with rental housing. Cost for the outside consultant is estimated to be $35,000 to $50,000.
This initiative could be handled by the Community Development Director and it was brought up by Mayor Richard Lehmann at the meeting that maybe the council should reconsider the elimination of the position. Unfortunately this put several our council members in an uncomfortable position, as they could not save face. One council person used the “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” routine and said we had a 4 to 3 vote on the job elimination and we must live with it just like they had to live with the 4 to 3 vote on the Event Center. (Even though the event center was publically scrutinized for years before that vote, unlike the job elimination vote held privately at one work session). Or to hear from another that the city “has a lot of experts on staff”. While I am sure talented, this is the staff our city manager said was down 10 persons in numbers during the past 2 years. No names were mentioned as to whom in the city staff could take over an 8 month project.
On a related note, this week I read with interest an article from the Rochester Post Bulletin about the City of Red Wing. Their city had just completed an 80 page/ 20 year action plan to revitalize and revamp their downtown area…just as Bemidji has done on its downtown. In the article, Red Wing’s City Planner Director Brian Peterson is quoted and is obviously the “go to” person on this project. Our city in 15 weeks will NOT have any city community development director, no city planner, and no “go to” person on any development or community project. Obviously 2 cities, similar size, both with visions and plans, but certain things will set one over another. Red Wing sees the value and the need for that position, Bemidji believes we can “do it with staff”.
The bottom line on this: only 4 weeks from the vote to eliminate the Community Development Director Position to save $57,000, we are going to spend $35,000 to $50,000 to outside contract a study the current director could do. Certain city community organizations spoke to this at the City Council meeting held August 17th. The question was raised…who is going to do the work of the community development director? The answer the city council is giving us is we will just “contract this” out at a hefty cost to you the taxpayers. The elimination of the position was justified by some council members as an “economic decision” that we just had to make. This was wrong. We have huge projects with the future of the city at stake. Other communities will be successful at achieving its goals and plans. I am sure Red Wing has financial difficulties facing their budget, but has maintained its city planner position. It’s tough to eat “humble pie” and to admit a mistake was made. Hopefully at least one of the four Bemidji City council members who voted for elimination of this position will see the economic and city benefits in keeping the Community Development Position in place as it is.
Rochester Post Bulletin Article on Downtown Red Wing Plans: