Getting a Grip on the Spin

Thank heavens! Now I can sleep at night, knowing the nail-biter of a primary season has finally delivered a Republican candidate for President.

Why, it’s Mitt Romney! Who would have guessed?!

Yes, indeedy, the pre-ordained Romney has been ushered in. But I’m a little worried about the lad.

How’s he going to convince Americans that parking his millions in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying his fair share in taxes is a good thing? And how’s Romney going to spin that long-time record as a businessman, making a fortune by shutting down U.S. companies and shipping their jobs overseas? Or his labeling as “marvelous” the Congressional budget proposal that would gut Medicare and Social Security while delivering yet more tax breaks to the richest one percent?

Just thinking of all Romney will endure—alternately running from those issues and spinning his way around them—why, it’s enough to make one dizzy.

And we haven’t even got to the Women Gap yet!

That’s the cavernous lack in support from female voters. And all because while Romney’s wife Ann labors writing paychecks to nannies and maids, Romney opposes the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act requiring equal pay for women for equal work.

While Romney’s wife labors writing paychecks to
nannies and maids, Romney opposes the Lilly
Ledbetter Fair Pay Act requiring equal pay for women.

And supports legislation allowing bosses the option to tell female workers their medical insurance will not include birth control.

And Romney plans, if elected, to axe “Obama Care,” which allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance, guarantees coverage despite pre-existing conditions, and stops insurance companies from axing people the minute they get sick—all provisions women overwhelmingly support.

Gosh, Romney’s got his work cut out for him, doesn’t he? We’d best let him get on with it!

Let’s poke our noses instead into the Chambers of the Duluth City Council, where the risk of developing a headache from the exigencies of spin is far less.

A bit of Stauber

Councilor Jim Stauber has shown up at tonight’s City Council meeting with a bee in his bonnet and an amendment in his pocket.

Stauber’s amendment would modify a resolution before the Council tonight that would create a “Higher Education Small Area Plan,” designed to sort out once and for all the bedlam in neighborhoods bordering Duluth’s university campuses.

When the city’s Comprehensive Plan was being completed years ago, Stauber explains, the city recognized it had “hot areas by the universities… but we kind of left this blank.” To fill in that blank, the city planned to create a Small Area Plan solely for the university neighborhoods, to guide land usage there.

Stauber’s amendment would take things one step further by designating those areas as formal “districts,” potentially with their own set of planning and zoning rules, “so we have more control.”

But Stauber has just plopped this amendment before Councilors, with no time for them to figure out its possible impacts. And city staff members haven’t seen it before now, either.

“My apologies,” Stauber admits. “I put this together in the 11th hour.”

“This should have been talked about a long time ago,” Councilor Jen Julsrud steps in. “Because the timing is so poor, I will not vote for this.”

Despite the confusion, the amendment passes 8 to 1 (Julsrud, No) and the resolution itself is tabled for more study. We should hear more on this issue soon, as the Council works to figure out how it can create lively districts around the university campuses while still protecting nearby neighborhoods.  

Steaming up the Fosle

It seems there’s nothing that steams Councilor Jay Fosle more than resolutions asking for money to buy new city vehicles. Unless it’s the cost of repairing the ones the city already has.

Tonight, Resolution 181 proposes the city spend $125,844 on five new city vehicles.

“This is a crime to the citizens,” Fosle growls.

He’s referring not to the purchase price but to the costs of repairs to the automobiles these new vehicles will replace. Fosle says his read of city documentation shows the city is paying outrageous prices for maintenance, such as $900 for an oil change. “Until those costs get looked at, I am not going to vote in favor of another vehicle in the city of Duluth.”

Somebody better look into this soon, or city workers might need to hitchhike to repair water main breaks.

So, it sounds good when Chief Administrative Officer David Montgomery announces that on May 14 at 6:30 p.m. the Council and Administration will meet to discuss the city’s fleet of vehicles.

And despite the brouhaha, Councilors approve the expenditure for those five new vehicles (Fosle, Stauber No).

The next resolution proposes the city spend nearly a half-million dollars on another piece of equipment: a Vactor Classic Combination Sewer Machine. Councilor Fosle steps in on this one, too, pointing out that from what he can tell, records show the city has spent $130,000 to maintain the old piece of equipment.

“This is unbelievable,” Fosle intones.


“I hope Councilors see we’re being sold a bill of goods.” Councilor Jim Stauber

“I suspect that as… part of the sales pitch to us, we’re told that maintenance costs are so high it’s time to replace the vehicles,” Councilor Jim Stauber concurs. “I hope Councilors see we’re being sold a bill of goods.”

Councilors pass this expenditure as well (Fosle, Stauber No), but with an eye toward that mid-May meeting.

Looking for a win-win

Few issues are so no-win as the next one. It’s a resolution denying a second methadone treatment clinic in Duluth, somewhere in the western part of the city.

Duluth’s other methadone clinic, the Lake Superior Treatment Center, is located on Central Entrance.

“There is a concern whether this sort of clinic can be a good neighbor,” Councilor Sharla Gardner weighs in, noting that Duluth’s other clinic has received mixed reviews. It has, in fact, been cited recently by the state for violations of state health and licensing codes.

But, Gardner points out, some claim there are 450 local people on a waiting list for help. “We have a problem in our community if there are 450 people on a waiting list and one clinic.”

Many of those people are addicted not to street drugs, she adds, but to prescription drugs. “What are we doing with these 450 people? Will we throw them in jail, where people don’t know what to do with them? That’s what we’re doing now. It isn’t the answer.”

“Anywhere you plant this you’re going to pose the same problems,” Councilor Garry Krause argues. “We already have one clinic with problems that police are concerned about.”

“This is a difficult issue,” Councilor Patrick Boyle comments. “The methadone clinic we have is not living up to its promises.” Boyle calls for an “open dialog in the community between citizens, the medical community, and the police” to find a better plan.

“Nobody likes detox centers,” Councilor Linda Krug says. “No one likes methadone clinics. Yet it’s irresponsible to simply say no… I’m not willing to cut off a tool that could help the citizens of this community.”

“I’m not against this treatment model,” Councilor Emily Larson comments. “I’m against this particular clinic at this particular time.” The current clinic is “way out of compliance,” Larson adds, saying the state should take a much stronger role in that problem and that until they do an additional clinic should not be approved.

By a margin of 6 to 2 (Julsrud abstains), Councilors follow in the footsteps of the St. Louis County Board and vote down the approval of a second methadone clinic. In the days following, the state as well denies the proposal.

A little attempt
at some teeth-pulling

With spring beckoning outside the City Hall windows, Councilors continue wading through the night’s Agenda.

They start with an ordinance that would allow a simple majority of City Councilors to veto any utility rate increase approved by the appointed members of Duluth’s newly-minted Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

The commission is currently made up of some volunteer citizen heavy hitters, including two engineers, two civil engineers, an environmental advocate, a water treatment specialist, plus three City Councilors. That, commissioners say, means they’re best informed to make the infrastructure decisions Duluth desperately needs.

Councilor Jen Julsrud reminds Councilors of the city utility map, which is covered with red dots indicating water main breaks. “Each one of those dots represents poor decision-making for decades and decades in this city.”

Council President Dan Hartman agrees. “Look what’s happened when we let the City Council make these tough decisions in the past… Our water system is 80 years old. Clearly we have not done our job.”

By a vote of 6 to 3, Councilors deny the ordinance, leaving in place the teeth in the law that will allow Duluth’s new Public Utilities Commission to make the tough choices. (Voting to allow Councilors to overturn PUC rate increases: Fosle, Krause, Stauber.)

Calling it a night with
some silver and gold

“Store owners who purchase gold and silver should welcome this to maintain dignity of their businesses and help the community,” Vicky Siders is telling Councilors.

Siders says her home was burglarized last spring by someone who sold some of her jewelry to a shop that buys gold and silver. And Siders is here tonight to support an ordinance that would require those businesses to submit photos of the items to an automated system, along with photos of the items’ sellers. It’s a system police say could help them track down people dealing in stolen merchandise.

Councilors approve the ordinance unanimously.

When you want to
take a break from
presidential politics

Monday, April 23 5:15 p.m. meeting on the Steam Plant management, 6:15 p.m. interview with WLSSD Board appointee, 6:30 p.m. Mayor’s Land Use Task Force report, and 7:00 p.m. Council meeting. Thursday, May 10, 5:15 p.m. Agenda Session. Monday, May 14 5:30 p.m. meeting on street reconstruction, 6:30 p.m. meeting on the city’s fleet of vehicles, and 7:00 p.m. Council meeting.

Third floor, City Hall. PACT-TV, Channel 7. KUMD radio, 103.3 FM
Barb Olsen writes about the Duluth City Council every month. This column is based on the April 9, 2012 Council meeting.