I made it back up to Duluth this weekend for the first time since my August departure, just in time for the first dusting of a snowfall. It’s coming. The city looks resolute under the steely November sky, and even in a short absence there are things to get excited about. The Maurices headquarters is going up, with the new downtown transit center soon to follow, while my old running route along Seven Bridges Road is open again; out in Lincoln Park, Frost River Trading Company, in conjunction with Bent Paddle Brewing, is buying up some property with the hopes of rehabilitating a dreary stretch of street that nonetheless has great potential. Ah, the transformative power of beer.
Here are a few things that came up amid a weekend of schmoozing and perusing the local news:
Linda Krug Steps Down. City Council President Linda Krug resigned from the Council presidency on Thursday, sparing us a fight over her possible forced removal. I applaud her willingness to take one for the team and avoid that sort of drama, and her acknowledgment, however halting, that she’d erred when she shut down Councilor Julsrud at the previous meeting. That can’t have been easy, and hopefully that puts this controversy to rest. Emily Larson now takes over the top spot for the remaining four meetings this year, and will presumably be elected to serve for the whole of 2015 as well. The vice presidency is now vacant, so we’ll see who steps forward to become next in line. Councilors Julsrud and Filipovich appear the likely candidates.
The Art Johnston Investigation. An investigation of the alleged abuse by the polarizing school board member has finally produced a document, which is not available to the public. Harry Welty, predictably, is unimpressed. His account says attorney Mary Rice more or less allows calls the charges against Johnston plausible, without quite going so far as to endorse them fully. The rest of us are left waiting for other sides of the story, which we probably won’t ever get. It’s now up to the Board majority to decide if they want to act on the accusations. If they do, they probably have the votes to boot Member Johnston, but run the very serious risk of looking like a kangaroo court, and if there’s no public evidence to support their actions, it will look very sketchy indeed. That will inevitably be very ugly and a bad PR exercise. If they don’t act, then they’ll just look like they wasted a bunch of money on a lawyer for no good reason. This whole thing is so dumb.
The IRRRB Is Getting a New Boss. This isn’t Duluth news, per se, but it certainly affects large parts of northeastern Minnesota. The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (“I-Triple-R-B”), for those unfamiliar with it, is a state-level agency based out of Eveleth that has no equivalent in the country. In place of a large property tax (which would ruin mines during bust cycles), northern Minnesota mines are taxed based on production, with the proceeds going to the IRRRB. It is then charged with distributing those funds for economic development purposes, both in support of mining and to diversify the local economy. (As you might guess, those two goals can come into conflict.) Aaron Brown knows the details better than I do, but Tony Sertich’s decision to step down opens the door for some new leadership. The IRRRB can leverage incredible financial power and has some successes to its name, but it has its share of flops as well. The new director will have a chance to harness a lot of resources for good of the region, so we’ll see which direction Governor Mark Dayton goes.
Be Glad You Weren’t in Duluth in 1918. It sucked. Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Dan Hartman, former Duluth City Councilor and current director of the Glensheen historic estate, on the city in 1918. Lots of young men got shipped off to war and killed, or came back to Duluth wounded and damaged. Then the Spanish flu hit in October, prompting a total quarantine of the city. The local papers kept a running scoreboard of new cases and deaths before eventually being too overwhelmed by it all. And then, to add to the fun, the Cloquet Fire broke out a few days after the flu hit, frying all of Cloquet and many outlying areas around Duluth, too. It was perhaps the greatest natural disaster in Minnesota history, a catastrophic inferno that appeared on the front page of London papers alongside World War I news. Refugees packed into a few structures, like the Armory—which is a great thing to do if you want to spread the flu even more. Yeah, it was miserable.
High School Hockey Transfer Drama. The Duluth News Tribune detailed the story of Cam McClure, a Denfeld senior and transfer from Marshall who was initially denied eligibility by the MSHSL. (Transfers who do not change residence normally have to sit out a year, but this can be waived in certain circumstances, including learning disabilities and financial difficulties in paying for a private school.) Junior Luke Dow, a Marshall-to-East transfer, is in a similar boat. This may not seem like news, and if the players’ reasons for transferring don’t hold up under scrutiny, there’s no good argument for not enforcing the transfer rule. It is worth noting, however, how rare it is for this to be enforced so strictly. Metro-area students transfer about willy-nilly with no questions asked, but in Duluth, for whatever reason, we’re seeing a crackdown this year. Either ISD 709 sucks at handling transfers, or something else is going on. Both players are fighting for their eligibility, and a ruling is expected on Tuesday. (Practice opens Monday; my preseason AA rankings, which could shift some depending on Dow’s status, will come out Wednesday.)
Seriously, Proctor? Seen on the drive up I-35: a billboard that reads: ‘Proctor. Close to Duluth, but far enough from it.’ Thanks for the support, neighbors. True, Duluth has some weirdness (witness the above political feuds), but, well…you’re Proctor. Do you really have that much to boast about? Oh well; all in good fun, I suppose. Just don’t think we’ll forget it the next time we try to annex a township that you’re coveting, too. (*Evil laughter.*)