'MN nice'? Most Minnesota fight ever envelops Bemidji

Even Paul and Babe can feel the #drama in Bemidji ... as far as we know [Photo: Star Tribune file]

Even Paul and Babe can feel the #drama in Bemidji ... as far as we know [Photo: Star Tribune file]

Is Bemidji "MN nice"? 

For the purposes of this political scandal, ignore the pejorative, passive-aggressive connotations often associated with the phrase. That's because City Manager Nate Mathews was 100 percent earnest in his usage when he put his hometown ON BLAST, igniting a political firestorm for the ages ... at least by northern Minnesota standards. 

To streamline this saga, one we're absolutely not sensationalizing, observe this harrowing timeline. 

July 25: Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht sends an email to Mathews and other city officials. It's about Minnesota Monthly's "Best MN Town" search. Albrecht calls the competition "a good opportunity for Bemidji," the Bemidji Pioneer reports, and she asks Mathews and three others to cook up a submission package. 

July 26: City tourism official Cindy Habedank adds Area Chamber of Commerce President Lori Paris to the email thread. Habedank suggests a collaboration. She asks everyone for input.

Later that day, she gets some.

"Thanks Cindy, I’d be glad to be a proofreader but not create text," Mathews replies via email. "It is borderline hilarious to think we will be attempting to publicly propose that Bemidji is a community is exhibiting MN nice in any way shape or form. I’ve lived in Bemidji for two years now and when I think of Bemidji in my mind right now I think of mean and manipulative people, not MN Nice. How people act toward the city, the JPB staff and me and the Council is inexcusable, and I’m sick of the veneer around here quite frankly. I’d be glad to proof something but not write this up."


Aug. 22: The mighty Bemidji Innkeepers Association sends a formal letter the Bemidji City Council concerning Mathews' email. They're pissed! 

"Unfortunately, his comments have just severed too many relationships creating awkward communications," the letter reads. "We need a change, a change to a positive, creative, energetic and dynamic individual who cares about tourism, the hospitality industry and more importantly, Bemidji."


Aug. 28: In an email, Mathews apologizes for keeping it real. Too real, according to some.  

"I was wrong to send you an email last month expressing my exaggerated assertion that people in Bemidji are not MN Nice," he writes. "This is not a true statement as I have met and worked with some of the most amazing and positive people I have ever known while working in Bemidji. So, please accept my apology for my exaggeration and know that I very much look forward to our continued collaborative efforts to promote Bemidji."

The mayor -- who received "not kind" blowback from the ordeal -- accepts his apology. Ditto for city council members, and the city officials involved in the initial email chain. 

"We are so fortunate, really, to have [Mathews]," councilwoman Nancy Erickson says at the Aug. 7 meeting. "He, with the greatest skill and dedication provides excellent services to this community in one of the most complex and difficult positions in the city of Bemidji."


But would the hospitality industry prove as kind? Not a chance! 

"They’re saying it was an error, a mistake. But it was a serious error as far as I’m concerned. The relations with the city is not real strong right now, there’s a lot of friction," local hotel owner Rich Siegert tells the Pioneer. "It just compounds it right now. Can they get busy and make amends? Possibly they can, I guess that’s up to him on what kind of relationship the city has with the innkeepers." 


Amid those torrents of #drama, the City of Bemidji managed to enter MNMo's "Best MN Town" search. Voting begins September 18.