Duke's Archive

This is an online archive of Duke Skorich's columns from the Northland reader & other publications. As this archive grows links to the columns will have separate pages and will also be available for download in Adobe Acrobat PDF format.

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From the Northland Reader
Column for Thursday 27 Dec. 2001 Issue

As I figure it, the publisher has my column timed so I'll be reviewing the Mayor's State of the City address the next time I write. Just thinking about yet another State of the City from Gary Doty is enough to make my holidays bright. There is little I enjoy more than the annual recitation of the Mayor's accomplishments, as seen through the eyes of someone getting an hourly rate to enumerate them.

I haven't heard who is writing the Mayor's speech this year, but I have a few ideas to improve upon what's been offered in the past. My view of things is somewhat different than the view from the 4th floor of City Hall. After all these years it might be time for a change of pace. Besides, the Chamber of Commerce leaders are so self satisfied these days, they won't even be listening. While the Mayor is speaking, they'll be lining up for the back slapping, hand shaking and disingenuous comment segment of the evening.

I always winch at the opening of the Mayor's speeches. Not for reasons you might think, either. The Mayor isn't funny. That doesn't mean a few of us haven't occasionally had a good guffaw at his expense; it means he's not a funny person. He has no comic timing. I hope he doesn't open the speech with a joke. Even self-deprecating humor doesn't work; our mayor always gets mad at anyone who makes fun of him.

Every year, Gary Doty gives us the latest tally of jobs created the previous year. But that number is confusing when not balanced by the number of jobs lost during the previous year. This year, I'd like to have him take the number of new jobs and subtract from it the number of jobs lost. That number is really the number of new jobs. I think it would also be most informative to include the annual income comparisons between jobs lost and jobs gained. Just keeping the records clean would tell us a great deal about how we're doing.

When the speechwriter gets to the fill-in-the-blank part about what's wonderful about Duluth, I hope they list things that really are wonderful. The plans for commercial development at Bayfront Park aren't wonderful. The Great Lakes Aquarium is in trouble, and in spite of the mayor's best efforts the Spirit Ridge Golf Course is not a "done deal". It would be nice if this portion of the speech focused on actual assets of our city and not used as a battering ram to convince us we'll just love: (pick one) A.) Picking up the tab for the Great Lakes Aquarium. B.) Shopping for shoes at Bayfront Park. C.) All the neat craft items that can be made from old growth trees. Our unique old buildings, our hard working entrepreneurs, our parks, our lake shore, our arts community, our educational community, medical services and growing environmental industries all deserve recognition. It would be good if the Mayor indicated an appreciation for what matters most to most of us.

He's got to talk about the Economic Summit, he can't avoid it. Unlike crime and affordable housing, the Economic Summit got a lot of media coverage. There was an impressive turn out of interested folks from all over the region. Many have a strong interest in the future of the area. The Economic Summit was a good start.

However, unless the goal of the Economic Summit was to fill the DECC ballroom for a couple of mornings, the Mayor's speechwriter should avoid the urge to declare the Summit a smashing success. Any value from the Economic Summit won't be seen unless the Mayor sticks to the follow up he promised. As far as the Economic Summit goes, it's probably best to stick to an update on the work of the committee appointed to spearhead the ideas discussed during the Summit.

When outlining economic development plans and goals, it would be nice if the Mayor threw in words like "sustainable" and "environmentally sound". There's still time, before the speech, for someone to get the Mayor some information on just what these words mean. I'm convinced, once he figures it out; he's going to love the idea behind sustainable and environmentally sound development. If not, the State of the City Address, might be an ideal time for him to explain why sustainable environmentally sound economic development won't work for Duluth. I know there are many of us interested in his views on that topic.

Finally, when the Technology Village comes up, as it will, I hope the Mayor will be fair. We taxpayers didn't contribute to that project based upon filling a building. The amount of space the building owner has rented is of no relevance to us. What we need to know is how many new jobs have been created as a result of our investment. I hope the mayor will talk about jobs; not tenants. I'm sure the Children's Playhouse will be a great addition to the mix of relocated Duluth businesses, but it's not what we built a parking ramp to attract.

I'm not idealistic enough to think for one minute that the Mayor will heed even one of my well-meant suggestions. For all I know, his speechwriter won't even read this column. But that's okay. It's enough for me to know, that like it or not, on January 7th, we'll have a rare moment in city government: the Mayor will attend a council meeting, and for a change someone besides Councilor Hogg will do all the talking.

11 December 2001
Can we please start listening now? For too long, people who objected to any development idea, no matter how hair brained, were labeled "anti". The power structure at the Chamber of Commerce and the city administration shook their heads in wonder at the lack of insight these "anti" types displayed.

It's never been about people being anti anything. It has always been about what makes sense and what doesn't. What is good use of public resources and what is not. Those who have been labeled were only asking that plans be weighed fairly before we charged ahead. Too many deals have been made without proper investigation or any real proof that investments would pay off for the people.

It may amaze some, but we're not stupid out here. We all realize the value of good development. We also recognize when something is too good to be true; something many of the city leaders seem to have a problem defining. Does anyone really believe Ken Hogg and the Mayor (as was reported in the Duluth News Tribune) really had no idea the Great Lakes Aquarium could have some financial problems? I doubt the average voter was the least bit surprised to learn the GLA can't make their bond payments. Yet the president of DEDA and the Mayor of Duluth had no idea there were problems. Come on, guys! If the City was at all on the hook to help in case of a shortfall, the president of DEDA and the Mayor (who also sits on the GLA board) had an obligation to check on the financial health of the facility.

No one wants to see the Aquarium fail. It would be terrific if the projected attendance figures were hit every month. Who wouldn't like to know our public support really did bring more people to town to support other attractions and businesses? That's not the point. It's not happening yet, and now we're being asked to pony up and help the GLA meet its obligations.

After all the secrecy and innuendo surrounding the management style at the GLA, it's tough to imagine tax dollars going to bail them out. These are the people who don't want to be considered a public facility when it comes to public questions about their activities, but have been promised public funds to stay afloat when times get tough. But, that's not the point.

All the stories and rumors about the aquarium don't matter any more. Whether the projections were too high and the people pushing the project too trusting isn't an issue any longer. The aquarium, for better or worse, is here and we're likely to see some tax money diverted to keep the doors open.

There are some things we can change, and some things we can't change. There is a lesson in all this: the people know of what they speak and the powerful better damn listen.

We are faced today with two controversial projects involving public resources. It's time to stop letting a small but influential group of people tell us what's good for us. It's time to listen to logic and to trust the people to know what's best in matters that tie up public land or money.

The projections for the Spirit Ridge Gold Course at Spirit Mountain are as inflated as any the supporters of the aquarium used for their iron-clad guarantee of success. Those who support this project do so, in large measure, based on the hordes of people they envision will flock to Duluth. These are mostly well meaning people looking for a solid attraction. They would be well served to take a serious look at what believing projections can bring us.

The folks who believe a marina at McQuade Road will result in no end of good things are, if you'll excuse the expression, in the same boat with our Spirit Ridge friends. There is no evidence, in reality, that another marina is needed. There is reasonable concern about the future costs to maintain such a facility. There are simply too many reasons not to build a marina at McQuade Road, but our friends who support it can't get beyond the promise of success. Logic plays no role in these matters.

We have to look beyond the assurance of the experts when we are promised any project will be the salvation of the area. The most important factor we should use in determining whether to pursue anything that involved public funds is the public. So far, the track record on public opinion versus optimistic dreams is pretty good.

Our city leaders may be the most well meaning people in the world. But, so far, they have given us little in the way of positive results for the great amount of public resources they have committed to development. It's time they started listening to the people who sincerely care about this region. Consultants will come and go. Elected officials move on. It's the people who live to fight another battle, pick up the pieces of a failed plan or pay the bill when promises don't come true.

It's time to listen to the people. Well connected, well financed developers should have no more say in the direction of our city than the average citizen who works for a living, and in their spare time, tries to protect what matters most about our town.

There's nothing wrong with trying a new idea. There is no point in trying to place blame for something that didn't work out. But, it would be a crime to ignore a lesson we should have learned by now. The people know what's best. Let the people guide our most important decisions. In matters of development and public spending, the people tend to be the most objective. There is no personal gain, no legacy being created. It's just the people, moving along, caring about our collective future and sharing an exciting vision about what is possible.
Duke Skorich

From Last Week's Northland Reader Column dated 1 Dec. 2001
Anyone old enough to have watched a holiday television special knows about the relationship between Charlie Brown and his nemesis Lucy Van Pelt. Lucy continually takes advantage of Charlie Brown's naļve belief that she will do the right thing. There are countless times she has promised to hold the football for him, only to snap it out of reach just as he kicks with all his might. He never learns. 

I'm feeling a bit like old Charlie Brown, staring up at the sky after being knocked off balance when the football wasn't there. I thought he meant it. Okay, we all know I didn't think he really meant it. I did think he'd wait a while to pull the football away. I really thought he'd let us get a few practice kicks in. You know, just enough to make us feel a part of the old ball game. 

The Duluth Economic Summit has to be considered a success in at least one area: it did seem to energize people. Many residents were eager to begin making changes to start moving our city in the direction required to ensure a promising future. 

The Honorable Gary L. Doty, our mayor, got the message. He heard national experts talk about the essential need to embrace all views in the community. Gary Doty responded; at the close of the Summit, he offered at least a portion of an olive branch. He acknowledged his administration might have played a part in leaving most of us out. He pledged to change. If nothing else, it seems evident the Honorable mayor of Duluth wants a glowing record of achievement when he mercifully leaves office in two years. 

How can it be that in just a matter of days Mike Conlan, the power behind the throne, announced the firing of the comprehensive planning consultants? How can it be that virtually no one involved in the Comprehensive Planning Process knew the administration was going to fire the consultants? How could inclusion have such a short life span?

 Suddenly, we're to believe Mike Conlan will hold the football so we can play the Comprehensive Planning Process game with him. Even the Duluth News Tribune was bold enough to finally point out Mr. Conlan's lack of formal training for this task. The process is also hindered by the absence of a planning staff in City Hall. They said it, I just read it.

 "Rats!" As Charlie Brown would say, we thought we had something here, but it appears there is something about planning that offends the mayor. 

As I considered these recent events, the reasoning behind his decision, which could essentially halt the planning process, became clear: Gary Doty feels he needs the freedom to create a lasting memorial to his years as mayor. When you're building a legacy, the last thing you need are rules. 

That's when I got my idea to create a legacy to end all legacies. I have Charlie Brown to thank for the inspiration. St. Paul has seen record tourism numbers since they started scattering Snoopy and Charlie Brown statues around town. I am appointing myself chief fundraiser for the Gary L. Doty Monument Committee. My plan is to raise enough money to have several statues of His Honor cast in bronze and planted around town to highlight his career of service. I've come up with a few proposed locations, but I'm sure the right Task Force could expand my list. 

Location 1: A statue of Gary Doty on the corner of Lake Avenue and Superior Street. He'd be looking up at the vast Technology Village in awe. He could be holding the rental agreement for DEDA. As a bonus, it would appear that someone is out on Superior Street in the evening. 

Location 2: A statue of Doty in the Civic Center. Just for fun, we could cast a John Fedo statue too, and show the two men standing on the steps of City Hall. The Doty statue could be pointing north -- toward Hibbing. The Fedo statue could be holding the plans for the Canal Park improvements and the Lakewalk. 

Location 3: A statue of Gary Doty seated in City Council chambers. Who said these statues had be accurate reflections of actual historical events? 

Location 4: For those sticklers who insist on realism. A statue of Gary Doty in Bayfront Park handing the keys to the city, and the license for a Bayfront restaurant, to Jeno Paulucci. 

Location 5: A Gary Doty statue teeing off from the first tee at Spirit Ridge. That way, no matter how the controversy is decided, Gary would have his dream fulfilled. 

Location 6: A statue of the mayor at the Duluth International Airport. No other mayor in memory has used the office as an excuse for International travel. I think a statue of Gary Doty, permanently on queue in the "Checked Baggage Only" line would be a nice way of remembering what he did as our mayor. 

Location 7: A statue of Gary Doty in the Great Lakes Aquarium, they could include the statue in their daily head count of visitors, just to help boost their numbers. 

I can only imagine what the Doty monuments could mean for Duluth. Now His Honor, our mayor, can stop fretting about his legacy. This is a chance to honor Gary Doty as so many of us believe he deserves to be honored. Once this is done, we can get back to a real comprehensive plan. I think this is a winner.

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