The Bemidji City Council voted for the mayoral term to be four years, retroactive to 2020. Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince abstained from the vote, but the measure passed 4-2, with Ward 4’s Emelie Rivera and at-large councilor Dan Jourdain voting against.
Ward 1’s Audrey Thayer, Ward 2’s Josh Peterson, Ward 3’s Ron Johnson, and newly sworn-in Ward 5 representative Lynn Eaton voted in favor.
Earlier, the council voted 5-2 to keep the special meeting open, despite guidance from the city’s assistant attorney Katie Nolting to close the meeting due to pending or threatened litigation.
The charter amendment adopted by voters in 2020 asked if the mayoral term should change from two years to four years and should it coincide with presidential election years.
Nolting tasked the council with making the official position on this issue, based on the information and discourse presented between Mayor Prince’s attorney outside the city, and City Attorney Al Felix.
The debate had several moving parts to it, with Prince questioning the legality of holding a mayoral election in a non-presidential year.
Rivera questioned what the legal ramifications could be if the council was found to be in conflict by taking this issue upon themselves.
In 2020, candidates for mayor filed for a two-year term.
In a 1961 Minnesota Attorney General opinion, a term change would not be applicable in the same election of a charter amendment by ballot.
However, section 3.10 of the city’s charter states “every ordinance and resolution adopted by the voters of the city shall take effect immediately upon its adoption or at such later date as it specifies.”