Unorganized Territory

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Life in unorganized territory
Updated: 2 hours 25 min ago

Shopping for candidates

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 5:29pm

The run up to the August 12, 2014 primary election has been very interesting. The primary is almost a month away, but things are heating up. Partly because of the number of candidates on the primary ballot, partly because of the unique things each candidate brings to the table, but mostly because mail ballots are being sent out soon.

Cook County Auditor Braidy Powers told the News-Herald that per state law, mail ballots could have been sent out to voters as early as June 27. Powers said the county wouldn’t send them out that early. Our auditor knows ballots will get misplaced in our piles of junk mail if they go out too early. No, Braidy said ballots would be hitting the mail starting July 22.

Voters could also change their minds. It certainly will be a tough decision for the two Cook County commissioner districts that will be going to the polls in August. There are six choices in District 1—the Colvill, Hovland and Grand Portage area—and four choices in District 5—the Pike Lake, Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder area.   

I know all of the people running for office—some better than others—but they are all good people. They would all do a good job representing our county.

So it comes down to the candidate’s stance on certain issues. That is where citizens need to pay attention. Voters need to attend local forums sponsored by community groups. There have already been a few opportunities—two in Colvill at the town hall and one on the West End at the Schroeder Town Hall.

Before the primary arrives, I’m sure there will be others.

Thanks to all of the candidates—John Bockovich, Kristin DeArruda Wharton, Harry Drabik, Steve Fleace, Jerry Hiniker and Frank Moe in District 1 and Tim Goettl, Bruce Martinson, Ginny Storlie and Stan Tull in District 5. Thanks for being willing to expend your time and energy on listening to constituents.

Voters also had the chance to listen to the WTIP radio forums held Wednesday, July 16 for District 1 and 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 17 for District 5. Visit the radio station at to hear what answers they gave when WTIP’s Jay Andersen and I talked to them in the studio, asking your questions of the candidates.

And, please take some time to read the News-Herald—we had interviews with the District 1 candidates in the July 5 issue and the District 5 candidates in the July 12 paper.

We may not have touched on your issue with our questions. It is really difficult to come up with just a few questions that cover everything. One question is just asking for the basic candidate biographical information, which is interesting but cuts into the harder hitting questions.

Or the silly questions. I would have loved to ask a Barbara Walters-style question: If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

Unfortunately, the maximum number of questions with four or six candidates was four questions. Approximately 100 words per question, four questions, six candidates equals 2,400 words. That’s a huge chunk of the newspaper. With a small introduction and the questions themselves, the article on our District 1candidates totaled 2,760 words.

It seems like a lot to read, but it’s worth it. It’s an easy read as the candidates all gave thoughtful answers.

My favorite question is one that actually came from a local business owner during a previous election. LeAnn Zunker of 1010 Design sent a letter to the editor as Election Day neared in 2010. LeeAnn asked, “What have you done personally to support the economy of Cook County?”

I think all of the candidates said, “Good question!” before answering. It’s not the typical question about the levy and budget, about road maintenance, about ordinances or economic development.

The question gave them all a pause, as it did me when I first heard it back in 2010. What have I done to personally support the economy of Cook County?

It’s a good question to ask ourselves, whether we are running for office or not. Sure, we all take a long shopping list with us when we make the trip to Duluth or the Twin Cities for an appointment or to visit family. It just makes sense to stock up on things that are hard to find in Cook County when you are there. Although all of our retail stores do a really good job carrying just about everything imaginable, there are times that they don’t have our favorite toothpaste or tennis shoe or power tool.

But how many of us run to Duluth just to go shopping? I used to when I had teenage boys and the herds of kids that hung out at our house went through a case of Hot Pockets per week.

But then a friend pointed out that you don’t really save with a trip to Duluth. She said you have to factor time off work, the cost of gasoline, and usually a lunch or dinner on the road. It adds up and those bargain socks or spaghetti sauce don’t seem to be such a bargain after all. Not to mention the wear and tear on your vehicle and your peace of mind. No, it’s better to shop local, to support your friends and neighbors.

Plus, you may just run into a candidate for a local government office. You can ask them your own questions while you stand in line at the grocery store or pump gas next to them.

Something hard hitting like: What can the county board and the city of Grand Marais do to make the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority (EDA) more successful?

Or something silly like: If you were a yogurt flavor what would you be?

It’s up to you—what do you want to ask your candidate?


Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.
Abraham Lincoln


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An honor system

Sun, 07/13/2014 - 9:06pm

Readers who are not writing a letter to the editor to the Cook County News-Herald this week will likely not notice that a subtle change has been made to our editorial policy. Regular submitters may not notice the change at all, as they already know the letter to the editor guidelines.

They may not always follow those guidelines, which leads to a bit of conflict now and then, but our frequent contributors do know the length, libel and slander limits.

The change is subtle. We rearranged the language in the note at the bottom of the editorial page and added a line. Along with the requisite: “Letters to the editor, columns and cartoons are the opinions of the contributors and not necessarily the Cook County News-Herald”—we’ve added a cautionary statement for letter writers.

The footnote now also states: “While we encourage readers to submit letters to the editor on issues they feel strongly about, we encourage writers to be respectful to one another. Your message is more likely to be heard if it is delivered in a civil manner.”

 The change is one outcome of my attendance at the Blandin Foundation Editor & Publisher Community Leadership Program—and of the meetings with community members that followed. Participating in the Editor & Publisher Leadership Program—E&P for short—is an amazing experience.

The program was established by the Blandin Foundation and the Minnesota Newspaper Association, based on the traditional community leadership program offered by Blandin. The goal of the training is to create healthy communities. At the training, each attendee took a hard look at his or her own community. The Blandin Foundation doesn’t give advice on what participants should do when they get back home. In fact, the training raises more questions than it answers. But the leadership sessions give invaluable networking opportunities and provide resources and support as leaders work through what works best for a community.

We have quite a few community members who have attended Blandin Leadership training. You likely know someone who has participated. They are government officials, nonprofit volunteers, teachers, and business owners. Most are actively working to make Cook County a better place, using the skills they learned and the ideas generated at the program into action.

The goal of the E&P program is the same. Since 2005, newspaper editors and publishers from across the state have gathered to take part in the program that asks them to look at the newspaper’s role in the community. One of the principles stressed in both the traditional and the E&P leadership program is the importance of social capital.

We all need people we can count on, to turn to when things need to get done. For a newspaper, it is crucial. We need to know who to call to clarify budget questions, to explain environmental rules and regulations, to let us know the story behind the story. We need people to act as citizen journalists at all the meetings and events that our small staff can’t get to. We need our local photographers to capture moments that we miss because there is too much going on. We couldn’t produce a newspaper without support from the community—our social capital.

So one of the Blandin E&P assignments was to reach out to the community to build social capital. We were asked to do that by interviewing community leaders about the newspaper’s role in the community.

I took it a step further. You may have seen the announcement of a newspaper focus group back in May. It was really interesting. The goal was to evaluate the Cook County News-Herald on how we were doing covering factors that create a healthy community, such as lifelong learning opportunities, safety and security for all, environmental stewardship and more. I asked for ideas and suggestions on how the newspaper could contribute to a healthier community with its coverage. I received that feedback—and then some. Thank you to the folks who took time out of their busy lives to participate!

One of the things that came through loud and clear—in the focus group and the one-on-one interviews—was that people were often irritated and offended by letters to the editor. My knee jerk reaction was to reply that many letters are much more spiteful than what gets published. I wanted to say that we have little control over submissions. But I tried to keep my mouth shut and listen. And I kept hearing that people were not reading the letters because of the angry discourse.

That is troubling and I took the question to the E&P group. I was vindicated a bit. As defenders of a citizen’s constitutional right to free speech, the group collectively agreed that we have little control over what readers submit. It’s a slippery slope, deciding what will offend a reader. If we rigidly edited or refused to run every letter that could possibly offend, we’d have no letters at all. And that would be as harmful as having some letters that may annoy or offend.

So, with our new policy, the Cook County News-Herald is asking readers to police themselves. Our new policy uses the honor system. We encourage you to write letters on subjects you feel strongly about. But we also encourage you to speak gently to one another. We want your message to be heard.

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A healthy community is a place where all people can meet their economic, social, physical, cultural and spiritual needs, working together for the common good and participating in creating their future.

The Blandin Foundation philosophy

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