Bemidji Charter Commission votes to do nothing to further clarify ballot question

The Bemidji Charter Commission voted unanimously to do nothing to further clarify the ballot question from 2020.

The question asked voters to amend the city’s charter by changing the mayoral term from a two-year term to a four-year term to coincide with presidential election years.

The exact wording of the question was this:

Charter Amendment – Council Composition and Election

Shall Section 2.03 of the Council-Manager Charter be amended to change the term of the Mayor from two years to four years, and shall it coincide with the Presidential Election?

The lack of a clear start date created confusion.

An ordinance to amend the new charter language to clarify that it began in 2024, or was retroactive for 2020, was rejected.

Longtime charter commissioner Michael Meuers said the commission had no choice but to defer to the charter as written since, during the filing period, candidates for mayor were filing for a two-year term.

The Bemidji Charter Commissioners are appointed by a judge, not by the city council. They operate outside the council and oversee the city’s charter, which can be likened to a local constitution.

An ordinance to amend the charter language can either go to the voters or to the city council.

In council, if the amendment through its three reading processes does not pass by unanimous vote, it will fail.

If it did pass, it would take 90 days to go into law, which would be too late for this year’s filing period in May.

In a 1961 Minnesota Attorney General opinion, a term change would not be applicable in the same election of a charter amendment by ballot.

Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince said he was seeking clarification on the start date since he campaigned in 2020, and would like to know if he is campaigning for another two-year term in 2022.

The meeting agenda said a portion of the meeting would be closed, but since no threatened or pending litigation was believed to be an issue among the commission, the meeting remained open and also accepted public comment.

The Charter Commission will meet again on March 16.

Listen to the brief interview in its entirety from Meuers:

Listen to Mayor Prince’s brief interview in entirety:

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