Drug Testing Debate and Unity All Around: Duluth School Board Notes, 1/21/14

The ISD 709 held its first monthly meeting on Tuesday night, and the Board members all looked pleasantly dapper and fresh as they opened the new term. (No silly tiffs about illegal campaign t-shirts when everyone goes formal!) Chair Miernicki began by welcoming everyone and introducing the two student Members of the Board, Paul Manning of East and Kobi Tremble of Denfeld. (Manning, in addition to having a rather awesome name plate introducing him as ‘P. Manning,’ spoke more in this meeting than his two student predecessors on the Board combined across every meeting I attended last year.) The Board congratulated Mr. Ken Williams, who had recently won a national award for his work in District transportation, and celebrated US Sen. Al Franken’s visit with the East Robotics Team on Monday.

Of the five community speakers, three were members of AFSCME Local 66, and demanded answers over why the District cut out two days—the MLK Day holiday and Tuesday’s staff training day—for paraprofessionals. They complained of the late notice of the cuts and about decreases in training, and worried the District budget was being balanced on the backs of its lowest-paid workers. They presented the Board with a petition demanding further action. Two other speakers confronted familiar District budget complaints, with one taking some time to chide the Board for oppressing him with its uncivil eye rolls.

After Superintendent Gronseth plugged the “Think Kids” informational meetings on the District budget, the Board delved into a lengthy Education Committee report. Member Harala delivered it, and did a superb job of actually explaining the items on the report in a concise and helpful manner. (I’ve complained about the opaqueness of these items in the past, so this really was a laudable development.) In turn, the informational items presented to the Board prompted plenty of good discussion.

The first was a progress report on the new Unity High School design, which is a blended program that uses online curriculum. Everyone was happy to hear positive reviews and see its numbers on the rise, and Member Welty asked a number of questions that gave the program some context. He was especially curious about the idea, floated by Asst. Supt. Crawford, that the District could eventually enroll students online from outside the Duluth area, thereby boosting District enrollment. Member Johnston praised Unity, and also highlighted its role in a substantial decline in out-of-school suspensions in the District. Member Seliga-Punyko asked about its staffing, which led to explanations of the individualized teaching methods used to meet each student’s level.

The next discussion was perhaps the most anticipated of the evening, as the Board took up a committee report on a possible design for random drug tests in Duluth schools. There was some confusion over whether the District actually was on this, likely exacerbated by media coverage that included ACLU plans to fight the measure. Supt. Gronseth tried to explain that it was just a “conversation about chemical health issues” and “not a formal proposal.” Chair Miernicki added that they had simply sat down with the Superior District—which does have a random testing program in place—and had a conversation.

Member Westholm thought the idea was “worth looking into,” though he had reservations over cost, implementation, and legal challenges, saying there is “nothing worse than an unenforceable policy.” Member Johnston echoed these qualified concerns, and commented on the murky conclusions of studies done on the issue; “we do have to talk about drugs,” he said, “but I’m not sure this is the best way to do it.” Member Harala added that the District should compare itself to other districts with unique drug prevention methods beyond Superior, citing Deer River as a good example, and worried that the program might single out certain populations. Member Johnston later repeated this concern, and said he felt this approach likely missed the most at-risk students, who are often not involved in extracurricular activities. (The Supreme Court only allows testing on students who are involved in such activities or have otherwise consented to tests.) Student Member Manning demanded to know where student input might come in on the proposal.

While the critiques were all carefully measured and not unequivocally opposed, Supt. Gronseth did push back on a few of the points, saying people “shouldn’t make assumptions” about people with chemical health issues, and that any look at the research “had to be objective.” He said further action would only come about after a lengthy review that would include considerable community input. Member Seliga-Punyko also expressed some support for testing, saying it would give students a way out of peer pressure and help them to say ‘no.’ Member Loeffler-Kemp jumped in to insist that mental health concerns had to play a role in this discussion as well. Though the testing proposal is still on the table, it appears it will have to jump through a substantial number of hoops to get anywhere. (I’ll save my own comments on random tests for a later date, if this does eventually get off the ground.)

Next up was a discussion of course offerings, in which District Curriculum Coordinator Kevin Abrahamson fielded questions. (His title was the subject of jokes all night long after he was introduced as the “Curriculator.”) Student Member Manning had some questions about a music-related course, and Member Seliga-Punyko made her frustration with the middle school six-period day very clear, saying it forced students to choose between music and foreign languages, which had lasting impacts as students went into high school. Member Welty had a few small questions as well, and after that, the Education Committee report passed unanimously.

The very brief Human Resources report quickly followed suit, and the Board moved on to the Business Committee, where Members Welty and Johnston pulled several items for discussion. The longest discussion involved projected enrollments; while there was the predictable back-and-forth between Member Johnston and Supt. Gronseth and Chair Miernicki on declining enrollment, it had none of the Red Plan-related overtones it normally has, and this time around Member Johnston dug a bit deeper and added some useful nuance to the debate. There was some complaining by Members Seliga-Punyko and Welty about the state’s revised weighting of students by grade, though Business Services Director Bill Hansen pointed out some of its benefits. Member Harala asked for a presentation on the effects of treatment programs such as Woodland Hills on District enrollment numbers, and was promised one.

The Members rounded out the Business Committee report with some minor discussions on declining state grants (related largely to AmeriCorps funding), school board compensation, loading dock issues, cracking chairs at Denfeld, and an unclear discussion on retirement funds that was worth watching but out of the District’s hands. It then moved to a vote, and for the first time in two and a half years, Member Johnston supported a Business Committee report. It passed unanimously.

In the closing comments, Members Harala and Loeffler-Kemp both talked up MLK Day events in which students had participated, and Member Johnston asked that the Board discuss the plight of the paraprofessionals in a committee meeting. Most of the discussion was about Minnesota School Boards Association conference that all seven had attended the previous week (a drastic improvement in attendance since his previous stint on the Board, said Member Welty). While the meeting wasn’t perfect (too few people of color and too many lawyer talks, complained Member Johnston and Chair Miernicki), they all had some positive takeaways. Member Johnston especially liked the discussions on alternatives to suspensions that break the pipeline to prison, and an intriguing one on “character education” as an alternate measure of success, and also (unsurprisingly) one on respecting the opinion of the minority view on the Board. The Board, he explained, needed to be “unified, not uniform.”

On Tuesday night, the Board met that ideal with flying colors. Every single person on the Board contributed something of substance, a feat that the previous Board never came close to matching in the meetings I attended. I’ve flamed Member Johnston on this blog many times over the past few months, but tonight he was not a bitter Member beholden to a Manichean worldview, but a thoughtful critic who raised careful, legitimate critiques in good faith. I can get behind anyone who does that, whatever his past. The newly seated Member Harala also consistently impressed me with her questions and insights, and it was refreshing to hear from a Student Member who was willing to push others on the Board. Member Miernicki makes for an affable Chair, and once he and Member Welty figure out the microphone system, the meetings should run smoothly. It was about as encouraging a first meeting as possible.

Washing out the Lice and Beginning Anew: Duluth School Board Notes, 11/19/13

(After the election earlier this month, why shouldn’t my title be an analogy worthy of Harry Welty?)

The lame duck ISD 709 School Board gathered for its second-to-last meeting on Tuesday night at Historic Old Central High School, and the mood was as festive as it’s ever been. The Duluth East Sterling Strings, now under the direction of the excellent Ms. Elaine Bradley, were on hand to serenade the Board members, and those in attendance were free to enjoy some watery orange punch throughout the evening. The three Members-Elect who will be seated in January—Annie Harala, Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, and Harry Welty—sat in a row in front of me, chatting freely. Member Seliga-Punyko was absent for a third consecutive meeting(!?), and one of the two student members was also gone.

The atmosphere in the room couldn’t have been any different from what it was like just three months ago, when the Board voted to approve a pair of levy questions for the November ballot. Ms. Marcia Stromgren and her video camera were nowhere to be seen, nor did Mr. Loren Martell make his way to the podium; in fact, there weren’t any citizen speakers at all. During the community recognition portion of the meeting, Assistant Superintendent Ed Crawford congratulated Stand Up For Kids for coordinating the passage of the two levies, and there was much applause. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Supt. Gronseth said how thankful he was that Duluth had passed the levies; he also thanked everyone who was involved in their passage, and previewed some of the plans to reduce class sizes and update curriculum with the new money.

The only real issue of substance came up during the Education Committee report, and revolved around a planned revision of the District’s head lice policy. A committee of teachers and community members, frustrated with aspects of the current policy, had come together over the previous week, and handed out draft copies of their revisions. The new policy lays out clear procedures for dealing with lice, emphasizes the goal of keeping students in the classroom, and aims to de-stigmatize lice as a sign of poor hygiene or cleanliness. (They’re not.) It reminds parents that it is their responsibility to check their children for lice with the catchy slogan, “once a week…take a peek!”

The Board members were all quite pleased with their work, and impressed at how quickly it came together. From what I could gather from Member Johnston’s near-inaudible mumblings, most of the concerns he’d had e-mailed to him had been addressed. Members Miernicki and Kasper echoed his satisfaction, as did Supt. Gronseth, who added that there will be some minor edits in definitions and formatting. The Members also acknowledged the other health-related issue to come up in recent weeks—the disclosure that as many as one-third of ISD 709 middle-schoolers may not be up-to-date on their immunizations—and promised a formal policy discussion in the coming weeks.

My summary of the remainder of the meeting could have been written in advance. There were the weekly issues with trying to get people’s microphones to work, and some resolutions were mis-numbered in the agenda. The Human Resources Committee report breezed through without any issues, and the Business Committee report involved the expected objections from Member Johnston. As usual, he expressed his concerns about long-term enrollment numbers and voted against the committee report because he thought several change orders to the last few Red Plan projects were being “improperly administered.” He kept his critiques very concise, though, and the Board wrapped up its business in short order. Once it was over, the Members and Members-Elect milled about for a while, chatting with the lice committee people (there’s no way to make that sound sexy, is there?) and one another, with even Member Johnston kindly agreeing to meet some of his future colleagues.

Compared to many recent meetings, this one was an absolute delight to sit through, and I’m happy to give the Board credit here. The passage of the levies lifted everyone’s spirits, and the lice committee people were very pleased with how quickly and thoroughly the Board had taken up their concerns. For the first time ever, I’m going to break out the “good governance” tag for a Board meeting. There’s good reason for optimism with the Board going forward.

Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t repeat my warning to the City Council: it can be dangerous to rubber-stamp everything without some debate. In many cases here I’m not even asking for that, but rather a simple clarification: for example, why is the Board “rededicating” several streets on the west side to the City? I doubt there are any real concerns about this, but I also doubt that anyone watching has any idea what this means. On a related note, could someone perhaps briefly summarize the “updates” the district receives from various people during the Education Committee meetings? Some of them do sound genuinely interesting to people who care about the district, or education in general. It never hurts to explain the thought process.

To that end, I’m considering attending the committee meetings next month; it seems like this is where a lot of the lice discussion took place, and if immunization and taxation issues are going to come up at the December meeting, it would be nice to get a more thorough briefing. Okay, I also have an ulterior motive: the East hockey team has a home game the night of the next full Board meeting, so I may need to attend the earlier session to get my fill of ISD 709 affairs. But even though I’m afraid that I do find hockey a more entertaining spectator sport than school board meetings, I’ll keep up on ISD 709 issues, and the blogging will go on. Stay tuned.

Dog Parks and Lessons from the Past: Duluth City Council Notes, 11/12/13

What with the Veterans’ Day holiday, Duluth’s first post-election City Council meeting was pushed back to Tuesday this week. There was a decent crowd on hand, boosted by a brigade of high school students observing the meeting for class. CAO Montgomery was away, and Planning Director Keith Hamre filled his seat. It was also the first meeting for Mr. Howie Hanson, elected last week to fill the vacant Fourth District seat; this was a bit of a struggle for the woman who calls roll, but she sorted it out in the end. Councilor Hanson proceeded to say one word for the rest of the meeting.

With no general citizen speakers, the Council marched straight through the consent agenda and into the consideration of a bunch of bonds and capital equipment notes. There was no discussion here, and the measures passed by the predictable 7-2 margin, with fiscal conservative Councilors Fosle and Stauber opposing both. After that, it was on to the main event: discussion of a resolution identifying two Duluth parks, Lakeside’s Russell Square and Observation Park on Observation Hill, as sites for future dog parks.

Six citizen speakers came forward to speak on the issue; three in favor of the resolution, and three who had issues with one of the two sites. The first two, Mr. William Lynch and his wife, Denette, cheered the resolution. They noted that a dog fence was a cheap and simple project, and the heavy use of the Keene Creek dog park on the west side proved there was a demand. They said the two parks in question were underused and/or worn out, and insisted they would not cause any blight. A Lakeside resident “hated to be a not-in-my-backyard” person, but worried about parking and other animals in the park, saying she was a dog owner herself but did not think Russell Square was a good spot. Finally, noted boxer Zach Walters and another coach at his gym alongside Observation Park, Mr. Al Sands, spoke to the park’s value in its current state. They said they used the park and its jungle gym for classes and sports, and spoke of plans to create a program for returning veterans in need of an outlet; a dog fence, they argued, would limit their operations.

Councilor Hartman then took some time to explain the process, which he called “frustratingly slow,” and he pointed to the extensive vetting process undertaken by the Parks and Rec board. Councilor Larson added to his good vibes and emphasized that this was not a “point of no return” if later public input came out against the parks. She added that dogs are less of a safety hazard when given their own park than when roaming on trails (a fact to which this frequent Lester Park runner can attest—I’ve been nipped at several times). Councilor Gardner was rather snippy with Mr. Walters, accusing him of “taking over” the public park and suggesting this was not the proper venue for complaints; there was a process here, and he needed to attend the community meetings.

This brought Councilor Fosle to life, and he was in vintage Councilor Fosle Form as he meandered through a lengthy rebuttal. He noted that there was no money allocated for dog parks in the city’s capital improvement plan, and said Mr. Walters was indeed at the right meeting, wondering why a park neighbor had not been contacted about the process. He noted that these sorts of resolutions tend to generate momentum that is difficult to stop later on. He said he wouldn’t bring his own show dog to the park for fear of disease or attacks from other dogs. He worried about liability issues, wandered into a discussion of ATVs and the need to make parks useable for everyone, and floated the idea of using old hockey rink boards to set up dog pens.

Councilor Fosle found an unlikely ally in Councilor Julsrud, who asked Mr. Hamry if the resolution was redundant; he replied by saying this was a valid way of doing business, but admitted that, in his work on the Planning Commission, he preferred more of a “blank slate” approach. Councilor Julsrud agreed, saying the neighbors (and not the “dog park enthusiasts”) should have had more of an opportunity to engage the process. Councilor Hartman pushed back against Councilor Fosle’s legal concerns, asking Attorney Johnson if the city had been sued over dog bites at the Keene Creek park. No one had, though Councilor Fosle dragged out this rather silly point by pointing out that the park has been around longer than Atty. Johnson has. The resolution passed, 7-2, with Councilors Fosle and Julsrud in opposition; the city will go forward with the planning process now, though citizens will still have opportunities to voice support or objections at community meetings.

Next up was a resolution discharging the city of a loan made to a condo developer. Councilor Stauber, sad to have his premonitions proven correct, lectured the rest of the council on taking money out of the Community Investment Trust (CIT)—the city’s “nest egg” for street repairs—and using it for interest-free loans on projects that might not work out. He supported the measure, as “something is better than nothing,” but warned the Council that they hadn’t seen the end of such troubles. Councilor Fosle concurred and predicted the complete exhaustion of the CIT in seven years, while Councilor Larson thanked the Administration for making sure the recovered money would go back into the CIT. The resolution passed unanimously.

The Council then took up a $797,000 contract to repair a flood-damaged Chester Creek culvert running beneath the Duluth Armory, and Councilor Julsrud again made her displeasure heard. While she supported the resolution, saying the city would likely end up in court otherwise, she insisted that the group charged with restoring the currently condemned Armory get its act together. If they fail to save the building, the city will have wasted a ton of money, and had it been demolished by now, the culvert would have been left open to the air and thus been far cheaper to repair. Councilor Stauber thanked her for her words and gave everyone another history lesson, saying the Armory saga was “becoming a nightmare,” and that past Councils’ eagerness to support the arts group currently charged with saving the Armory—which it purchased with a $1 check that bounced—had cost it far better alternatives. Councilor Gardner pointed out that other things would be damaged if the culvert were not repaired, and everyone got on board to pass the resolution, 9-0.  

The last item on the agenda was a re-zoning of the old Central High School property, which had Councilor Fosle congratulating the school district for its renewed attempts to sell it. Here, Councilor Hanson finally got his one word in: “abstain.” The other Councilors all supported the ordinance, and it passed, 8-0. The closing comments featured mentions of several community meetings on such diverse topics as poverty (Gardner and Krug), crime in Lincoln Park (Krug), councilor appointment processes (Gardner), and ATV trails (Fosle); people hoping for free food at said meetings (Stauber); and gripes about parking at City Hall (Fosle).

The meeting had a transitional feel to it. Councilor Stauber in particular seemed keen to make a mark before he takes his leave, with his cautionary tales of good ideas gone awry when money is thrown around too freely. After the election, which resulted in a huge left-leaning majority on the Council, I suggested that the Council, whatever its ideological proclivities, had to make sure there was quality dialogue, and that no group of people was left out of the debate. Councilor Fosle achieved that with his usual stream-of-consciousness objections, but that was to be expected; in this meeting, I was most impressed by Councilor Julsrud, who was not afraid to ask sharp questions and demand results, no matter her stance on the issue at hand. From a good governance standpoint, this is what I want to hear out of elected representatives: crisp questions, a willingness to learn from the past, careful consideration of community input, and a concise articulation of why they’re voting the way they are. A good council has a healthy variety of styles and approaches, of course, but with ideological divides unlikely to hold up the Duluth City Council, its members must be careful to avoid the most immediate danger: groupthink. They did a decent job of that on Tuesday night, and must continue to do so going forward.

Don Ness’s Duluth and its Divisions: Election 2013 Analysis

I’ve written a lot about Duluth politics in recent months, with coverage of every city council and school board meeting, plus some coverage of yesterday’s election (results here). Lost in most of this political talk, however, was mayor Don Ness.

The lack of Ness coverage is, in part, his triumph. In this recent NPR interview, he said his goal was to make Duluth politics “boring” again. Six years into his tenure, he’s done that. He remains incredibly popular, and with good reason, considering the successes of the causes he’s supported. The economy has been fairly resilient despite a rough national economic climate. The city has won some major victories against noted antagonists, most notably Jim Carlson. Duluth has a bunch of new schools; despite some wobbly moments due to the way those schools were pushed through, they will be well-funded thanks to the passage of the two levies. Funding for libraries and parks has increased. The city even confronted its huge retiree debt burden and, while it probably hasn’t gone as far as conservatives want it to go, the Ness Administration has proven it isn’t beholden to special interest groups, and that it tries to avoid tax increases when at all possible. Don Ness is the dream mayor of the center-left, and if he is so inclined, he could easily make a strong run in a state or national race. (He even has the adorable children necessary for that sort of thing.) Ness’s warmth has rubbed off on people around him, as eight of the nine City Councilors now lean left. This city has been thoroughly renovated in the image of Don Ness.

However, underneath all of the solid colors that appear on the election maps are a lot of details that are worth exploring. The somewhat unexpected results of three races jumped out at me: Zack Filipovich surpassing Barb Russ for first in the City Council At-Large race after finishing second in the primary, the passage of the second ISD 709 levy question, and Art Johnston’s re-election to the School Board.

All three of these results underscore the east-west divide in Duluth. That’s a delicate topic, as School Board Member-Elect Harry Welty learned with his “gangrene” comments, and obviously it generalizes, and there are plenty of people on both sides of the city who cut against the east-west stereotypes. Still, one trend clearly emerges in election results: the west side’s rejection of the east side liberal establishment.

It’s especially significant when you consider that people from the west side are not a demographic you’d normally associate with conservatism. It’s not a wealthy or suburban/rural region, and in state and national races, it’s still reliably Democratic. This is no bastion of the Tea Party or libertarianism, as shown by the passage of the first levy question in all but one precinct and Ryan Stauber’s inability to break through in many places. Still, the west side is not moving in lockstep with the Ness agenda, and it’s worth asking why.

We’ll start with a look at the City Council At-Large race, in which I’ve mapped out the winners of each precinct using the wonders of Microsoft Paint:

City Council At-Large

Zack Filipovich, as you can see, had a very strong showing on the west side. As a recent college grad working in finance, Filipovich doesn’t really fit the blue-collar stereotypes one associates with the west side. Still, his campaign (whether by design or not) was certainly less explicitly liberal than Barb Russ’s, and since he’s young and fresh, he’s not really an establishment figure. Unlike Russ, he made a concerted push to get beyond the establishment, and campaigned out west. For that reason, I suspect he was able to generate a lot more support, especially in an election where voters could choose two candidates. Ryan Stauber was an easy first choice for Duluth’s more conservative voters, but I’d hazard to guess that Filipovich, who remained rather vague and upbeat in his campaign, was most likely to be their second choice. That coalition probably carried him to a lot of victories on the west side.

This anti-establishment-liberal pattern is even more distinct in other recent elections, with the west side being far less interested in sending more money to the city than the east side. In Ness’s first election, he won the east side and lost the west side to the more conservative Charlie Bell. Jay Fosle, the lone conservative on the Council, represents a far west district. Garry Krause, the recently-resigned conservative District Four councilor, was from the west side, and got a decent share of the vote despite having withdrawn from the race. If he’d stuck around, I suspect he would have won. If you want a map that really underscores this trend, though, take a look at the way the city voted on the school board levies:

School Board Levy Map

This really wasn’t a case of the city coming together to support the second levy. It was a case of the east side having just enough votes to drag the west side along with it.

While much of the rest of the city is exasperated by anti-Red Plan crusader Art Johnston, he was re-elected to his far west side district. In the West End area, there seemed to be a lot of passion over the school board race: Bolgrien’s base of support was right around Denfeld High, and Johnston had a bunch of signs in the areas just beyond the Bolgrien core. Heading east into Lincoln Park, however, there were hardly any yard signs. Even so, Lincoln Park broke for Johnston. It wasn’t a vicious rejection of Ness and his School Board allies, but it was a clear one.

School Board Dist. Four

I rarely agree with Art Johnston, but to his very real credit, he too has acknowledged these trends. He posed the question to the Board at a recent meeting, perhaps not realizing that his own presence on the Board is a product of these trends: why does it appear that west-siders do not share the east side’s emphasis on education, and willingness to open the pocketbook to support it? No one answered him, and he deserves an answer.

Part of it may be demographics. The school-aged population is much higher on the east side, so more people have a stake in the schools there. East side voters, content with the generally high test scores at their schools, see the value in supporting the District, while west side voters, seeing more mixed results, may not. (I have never understood the logic behind giving struggling schools less money, but plenty of people explain their votes that way.) Perhaps most importantly, the west side has more people living on fixed or lower-middle-class incomes who are nonetheless not living in poverty or qualifying for many government support programs. Because of that, they tend to be less willing or able to handle a tax increase.  That fact can explain the fiscally conservative bent one sees in the west side’s city councilors, too.

But while socioeconomics may explain a lot of the divide, they are not destiny. To that end, it’s important to understand why a number of Duluthians (no matter which neighborhood they live in) may not be completely thrilled with Don Ness’s Duluth. For that, I’d point readers toward my post from a few months ago on Duluth’s future. It’s a long and meandering post, so I’ll summarize one key part here.

Under Ness, Duluth has made a concerted effort to reinvent itself. It has also made itself a desirable place for young people to live, harnessing its natural beauty and developing a decent artistic and culinary scene. (Yay, good beer!) It has spent a lot of money making itself attractive, and to date, I think that move has been reasonably successful. With the decline in U.S. manufacturing, it was necessary to take that stand and create a new brand for the city, and while I have my quibbles here and there, I’m largely on board with Ness. I was also a staunch supporter of both levies, and I believe world-class public schools are essential to this whole project. However, former Councilor Krause raised an essential concern, and one I am not sure the Ness camp has properly addressed: is Duluth’s interest in shiny, new things coming at the expense of the mundane? Yes, it’s great to attract new people, but what about those who have been here for a long time, and are simply trying to get by?

No matter how many elections Ness and Friends may win, these questions will still exist. They need to be magnanimous in victory, and recognize that simply cruising along with a mandate still leaves some people on the outside looking in. No, they can’t satisfy everyone all of the time, but no one should be left behind because they never got a chance to be heard.

Speaking of being on the outside, the lack of racial diversity here is also worth mentioning: after this election, everyone on the School Board and City Council will be white. This isn’t terribly shocking in a city that is over 90 percent white, and there were two minority candidates this fall who simply did not run very impressive campaigns. Mary Cameron had a very long tenure on the School Board, proving that minority candidates certainly can do well in Duluth. Several of the white elected officials have long histories of work with minority groups. Even so, there is a trend in modern American liberalism in which people politely acknowledge minority interests while doing little to actually address them. I’ve talked up the east-west divide here, but downtown can’t be lost in the shuffle, either.

This all brings me back around to “boring” government. Yes, boring government is certainly better than people screaming at each other nonstop, but there is a danger here, too. This quote from Councilor-Elect Howie Hanson in the October 29 News-Tribune comparing himself to his predecessor brings it out clearly:

“I think Garry [Krause] was a little frustrated because he was in the minority on a lot of votes,” he said, noting that Krause frequently found himself at odds with Mayor Don Ness’ administration and much of the council.

“If we’re going to move Duluth forward, I think you need to set aside your personal agenda and petty politics and get everyone on the same page,” Hanson said.

This bothers me somewhat, and I do not think it is an accurate characterization of Krause’s work, even if I didn’t always agree with Krause. Good governance does not involve everyone being on the same page and rubber-stamping one another’s proposals. It needs constructive, perhaps even heated, arguments. To its immense credit, the City Council has managed that in recent years; the School Board, on the other hand, has not, as it went from being a rubber stamp machine during the Red Plan days to a fractious and ugly war zone during Art Johnston’s first term. With Welty and a possibly conciliatory Johnston on the School Board, I have some hope that it might finally come to a healthy balance. The new Council, with its new left-leaning supermajority, must make sure it doesn’t fall into one of those twin traps that bogged down ISD 709 in recent years.

Duluth’s politicians have the potential to do some great things in the next few years, and the future is there for the taking. We’ll see how they do.