Two Nisswa residents are publicly questioning Mayor Fred Heidmann’s comments on social media that are part of a discussion about a Baxter teacher’s comments that were deemed racist. That teacher later apologized for her comments and resigned her position.
Biff Ulm, who owns Zaiser’s in Nisswa, wanted Heidmann to clarify his comments on Facebook and submitted a list of questions for the mayor that are part of the June 17 Nisswa City Council packet. Ulm spoke at the council meeting and has since started a petition for the mayor to own or dismiss his statements.
Patrick Kennedy, who grew up in Nisswa, wasn’t at the meeting but submitted a letter to the council in which he said: “I am respectfully asking for the immediate resignation of Nisswa City Mayor Fred Heidmann, and expect this to be addressed in a timely manner or I will take alternative steps in order to recall the mayor.”
Heidmann wasn’t present at the June 17 council meeting, but when the Echo Journal sought comment he submitted a written response that is published in this issue. Also since that meeting, council members Gary Johnson and Mike Hoff called a special council meeting for 5 p.m. Thursday, June 25, at city hall "for the purpose of addressing the public regarding comments made by Mayor Fred Heidmann on Facebook."
The comments in question appeared on a Facebook post started by Deb Cruz, who called for Baxter teacher Kara Hall’s termination and posted part of Hall’s comments from a separate Facebook post, which said, in reaction to the riots in Minneapolis: “Maybe you should be out there telling them to stop burning businesses if they are such good people? I know all I see are scary, awful blacks people robbing businesses that don’t deserve this. They are making it worse for themselves.”
Responding to others commenting on Cruz’s post, Heidmann agreed with one person who defended Hall’s right to free speech. Heidmann wrote: “I agree Terry, what was said is a pretty accurate account of what is happening. I believe with all my being that what happened to George Floyd is inexcusable. Those officers need to face the consequences to the full extent of the law. But when one side can say anything they want and get praised for it and the opposite side is chastised for everything they say, that then becomes communism.”
In another response to Cruz, Heidmann wrote: “I do not see that her words were hateful or vulgar. What is harmful is teaching our children that Islam is good, Christianity is bad, there is no God of the Bible, science knows everything, America is bad Cuba is good, etc.”
In his letter to the council, Ulm said he believes Heidmann has the right to voice his opinion openly and he would not ask Heidmann to alter, retract or modify his true feelings for political purposes. He simply wanted clarification and insight into the comments and listed six questions for the mayor.
“I was hoping the mayor was going to be here today. He’s been kind of hard to track down,” Ulm said.
The questions ask if Heidmann believes any of Hall’s comments are vulgar, hateful or racist; if it was mostly “scary awful black men” looting Minneapolis businesses; if Hall should be held responsible for her comments in regard to keeping her job; if he believes our country has institutional systems at the local, state and national level that need to be addressed to help promote equality amongst all citizens, and if we do at the local level, what is the council doing to address these changes; if he believes the Brainerd School District’s curriculum used to teach youth needs to be addressed, and if so, how; and if he mayor believes people of all religions and races should be welcome in Nisswa.
Ulm told the council that like others, he’s been working five times as hard and for less sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nisswa has a diverse audience of shoppers and the economy accounts for that, he said, adding he was concerned about the words in the Facebook post from the city’s highest elected official that could affect further those people who want to come and visit the community.
Ulm said he was seeking an honest and open dialogue.
Council member Gary Johnson, acting as mayor in Heidmann’s absence, encouraged Ulm to continue to reach out to the mayor.
Ulm said this could escalate to another level like the petition seeking Hall’s termination, but he hoped to take the higher ground. He later said in an email he started a petition for the mayor to simply own or dismiss his statements.
“I’m easy to track down. I’m living in my store. I’m looking for how to address this in a proactive manner,” Ulm said.
In his letter, Kennedy said Heidmann’s comments were inappropriate for an elected official. He shared his experience as a resident assistant at the University of Minnesota whose apartment is in the middle of everything that was happening. He said it is frustrating to see how the media and social media are shifting the looting and protesting against the Black Lives Matter movement as he saw white people not from the Twin Cities destroying the community.
“So I ask you to please think, and do research before posting on social media to make sure the statements you are making as an elected official are rooted in logic rather than opinion,” Kennedy wrote.
Kennedy also wrote that Nisswa is a tourist economy and should be fortunate to host visitors from all races, ethnicities, beliefs, genres, sexes, incomes and occupations every summer. He said Heidmann’s second comments were “polarizing and frankly does not create a culture of inclusion for those who don’t look or think like Mayor Heidmann.”
Elected officials need to be held to a higher standard because many livelihoods revolve around summer residents and lakes are a guests, he said.
Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.