BEMIDJI — Much like so many other Minnesotans, the representative of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities that visited the Bemidji City Council during its Monday, Aug. 1, session was disappointed with the lack of action from the state legislature.
Elizabeth Wefel, who visited on behalf of the organization as a part of its annual visit to Bemidji, outlined to the council how what had begun as a promising legislative session down in the state capital ended with little to no substantial action on a number of key issues.
“Normally I’m able to tell you about all the exciting things that happened at the legislature,” Wefel said as she began her report, “this year is a little different.”
The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is a lobbying organization that represents over 100 cities outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area, including Bemidji. When the legislative session began, the coalition had a lot of hope that it would be a productive one.
As Wefel explained, the session began with a record state surplus, and there were a number of bills on the table that would have been beneficial to greater Minnesota.
“This was an unusual year for us. We had really high hopes,” she added.
There were several bills that the coalition planned to focus on, including a reevaluation of how local government aid is portioned out to cities. Ultimately, and like many other bills that were a part of the last session, it did not pass.
“The senate didn’t go along with it,” Wefel said. “It will continue to be very important to us, Bemidji would have benefited from the new formula.”
The coalition also lobbied for a bonding bill that would have included money for a wide range of infrastructure, another bill that the legislature was unable to pass.
“We got really close,” Wefel said. “A lot of things came close, but they fell apart on that last day and they just didn’t get it done.”
The legislative session, according to Wefel, was “pretty much squandered” but one question that came up was why so many bills ended up failing at the last minute.
“We really did think even going into that last session that something would get done, but ultimately (the bills) were all tied together and at the end of the day they didn’t agree to anything,” she explained.
Like so many other problems facing both the state and the country, Wefel believes that increasing political polarization played a part.
“Ongoing political polarization has hit Minnesota, much as it has the rest of the country,” she said, but went on to say that there’s still a lot of opportunity for action in the future.
This could come if the legislature reconvenes for a special session or during next year’s session which could see a slate of new legislators voted into office.
“We’re going to have a lot of issues we need to get engaged on,” Wefel said. “There’s a lot of changes ahead.”
She closed her report to the council by reaffirming the coalition’s commitment to working alongside the cities of Greater Minnesota and lobbying for the issues that affect them.
“It will continue being a goal for us,” Wefel concluded. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”
The city council session also included a public hearing on an ordinance changing the city code related to animals. One of the changes would move postings for found animals from City Hall and the city website to the social media pages of the Bemidji Police Department.
This change was one that some members of the community took issue with, arguing that it decreased the avenues for people to see the postings.
“Reducing the notice of animals who have been found reduces the avenues through which the public is notified,” said Linda Lemmer, who spoke at the public hearing. “Putting them on the police department’s social media page is not sufficient.”
Other community members were grateful that the council was looking at the city’s policies related to animals, but hoped that this would only be the start of a further evaluation.
“We’re very grateful the ordinance was brought to the attention of the city council,” said Brandon Mustful, executive director of Great River Rescue in Bemidji. “We just want to encourage the council to do a thorough review.”
Ultimately the city council decided to postpone the second reading of the ordinance and begin work to form a committee to do a deeper examination of the ordinance and the city’s code related to animals.
“We do need to look at this ordinance,” said At-Large Councilor Daniel Jourdain. “I think it’s a good idea we review this type of committee to get more people, more involvement.”