Monday 1-7-2002

State of the City

Dear Political Diary,

I got two mentions in the paper today. The first was the article on what other people think the Mayor should say at his State of the City speech tonight. I have no idea why anyone other than the half dozen of us quoted would bother to read the article. More gratifying was a letter to the editor from George Balach qualifying his comments in the big story about the Duluth and Superior schools. George knocked me a bit for my emphasis on saving elementary schools but he wasn't nasty. The real compliment was his turnaround on the idea that Central might be a better location for a high school. He could have been quoting me.

The Human Relations and Business Committee meetings were held in the afternoon. When I was told last week that these meetings preceded the seating of new school board meetings I scratched my head a bit. Mary Cameron was elected to serve starting January of 2002 but holding our January committee meetings before her swearing in seemed to fly in the face of the election results. 

I had even called Tim Grover to ask him if he could recall these meetings ever preceding the swearing in. He couldn't recall this ever happening before but suggested that it was probably just a cylindrical coincidence. I called Julio later to ask him and he suggested the same thing. I asked him to check the records to see if it had ever happened before. He called back later to say that it had happened ten years earlier although in a year in which there were no changes in the make up of the School Board.

The meetings took a couple of hours. There was little of interest although the subject of hiring a new HR Director was broached. Already some of the School Board members are waving the popular flag of administrative cuts to object to replacing the vacancy. This seems foolish to me. We are a labor intensive business with over 2,000 employees. We've already had two candidates for the job pull out of consideration because they viewed it as too consuming a commitment. Currently the Superintendent has been acting as the HR Director. Its not as though he doesn't already have enough on his plate. 

At six I headed down to the DECC (Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center) to witness the swearing in of the new City Council and hear the Mayor's State of the City Address. A half dozen police cars blockaded London Road below my house and backed up traffic for a mile on I35. Fortunately the traffic was clear heading south.

Chief Lyons was standing in the back of the conference room. He was pacing the floor energetically. I asked him what was going on at the blockade and he told me there was a gun man holed up in a house. I wished him a Happy New Year and he shook his head in exasperation.

A few years ago the School Board used to be sworn in on the Same Monday as the City Council but Mary Cameron prompted us to change the day so that we could attend the City's more elaborate celebration. This is the premier see and be seen event for Duluth political junkies. I stood in the back with the Police Chief and Julio and Joanne Fay watching the ebb and flow of personalities.

All the candidates mentioned to succeed Sam were present but it was Yvonne's night. The Mayor's speech began with an encomium to Sam and quickly led to a standing ovation for Yvonne. This public gesture of support pretty well showed the futility of challenging Yvonne for Sam's office. Dale Swapinski and his allies were hovering around the back of the room. 

Dale was his usual brooding self. His machine had let it be known that he would announce his intentions at 10 the next morning. I was eager to have him decline because I wasn't eager to work on any campaign which could be interpreted as challenging Yvonne.

I couldn't help raising the unknown issue of the School budget with Julio standing next to me. I told him that upon reflection I was less and less interested in meeting a 2 or 3 million dollar debt by spending down our reserves. Julio commented that we'd be lucky if our shortfall was only that severe. He clearly anticipated a much worse hit. The Governor will soon spell out his plan for meeting the looming state deficit.

Julio and I got talking about the senate race and I suggested that Dale might be stubborn enough to run. Julio bet me a quarter that he wouldn't. I don't usually bet but at this stage in my life I decided I could afford losing an hour of parking money.

next entry