The column that almost wasn’t

Regular readers know that I am constantly striving to become more organized. This week has had more than its share of challenges and I was reminded that I live in Unorganized Territory.

It’s been awhile since I explained how my column came to be titled Unorganized Territory. Longtime readers know the reason and probably even people who have just met me can tell I’m an unorganized person. But there is a reason beyond my disorganized state.

I grew up in Grand Marais and lived almost my whole life on County Road 7 in Grand Marais. I left Cook County when I married my sweetheart Chuck, who was serving in the Army. We moved away to Tacoma, Washington and spent the next 22 years making our home where the Army posted us.

After living in Tacoma, Washington; Mannheim, Germany; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Monterey, California; Stuttgart, Germany; and Woodbridge, Virginia, we returned home to Grand Marais in 1995. I am blessed to now live just behind my parents’ house on County Road 7.

I received a delightful surprise when I opened my first Cook County property tax bill. Not that I was delighted to have to pay taxes, but I was tickled to see that my home is in the unorganized territory. And actually, all of my growing up years had been spent in unorganized territory.

I laughed when I realized that I now have a possible excuse for my frantic and frazzled existence—I’ve spent most of my life in unorganized territory. No wonder I can’t remember appointments or find my cell phone!

As I said, this week has been particularly busy and my little cell phone calendar is working overtime to keep me on track. Election interviews with commissioner candidates on top of regular summer activities have us all running. So, we had a very late night at the office on deadline and I was just too tired to write my column.

I left the office vowing that I would get up bright and early to write Unorganized Territory. I don’t like waiting until the very last minute, but I had a few ideas in my head about what to write about, so it would be no problem, I thought to myself.

I had forgotten that two of our grandchildren, RaeAnne and Carter, were staying at my house. When I got up, I fixed some coffee and had a leisurely breakfast with them. As we talked about their plans for the day, I asked if they wanted to accompany me to the radio station to listen as I gave my weekly “What’s in the paper this week” report to WTIP.

They said sure. They’ve gone with me before and they enjoy it. It’s fun watching the action at the radio station and the candy jar there is always full.

Rae & Carter at zoo

RaeAnne & Carter, two of my five wonderful grandkids!

I thought as long as we were cruising around Grand Marais, it would be fun to take them by the Little Free Library on Third Avenue West. They picked out a couple of books from the collection of kids books at my house and off we went.

I finished my radio report and we swung by the Little Free Library and I had another great idea. The current exhibit at Johnson Heritage Post, Feels Like Home, with beadwork by Jo Wood and paintings by Don Lessard, is absolutely amazing.

I asked if they wanted to go to an Art Gallery and they said sure. They’re game for anything new. So we headed that way to find that we were a little early. The doors were not open yet.

No problem, we walked over to Java Moose to get an early morning treat. An iced latte, strawberry smoothie and mint Italian ice later, we were strolling back to Johnson Heritage Post.

The museum was open and we enjoyed Don Lessard’s lovely paintings—I especially like Croftville Walkers—and Jo Wood’s exquisite bead pieces. The kids loved them, marveling along with me, “They’re 3-D.”

Since the kids hadn’t been there before, we had to take a few minutes to look at the beautiful permanent Anna Johnson collection. And when I noticed that Linda Blaine Ottis was working at the gallery, I had to point out her charming woodcarvings, telling RaeAnne or Carter that she is the artist that made them.

I was reluctant to take them home to grandpa and to head to work—to unorganized territory. I did though, and when I got to my desk, I was discombobulated. I hadn’t written my column! So here I am, frantically telling my unorganized tale as the weekly deadline looms.

It’s okay. It was a wonderful morning in Unorganized Territory.

~     ~     ~     ~

Time you enjoy wasting
is not wasted time.

Marthe Troly-Curtin


Shopping for candidates

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.    vote here sign2

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 WTIP.com 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

 


An honor system

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.”

paper2 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.

~     ~     ~     ~     ~

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


Where are We in June?

Our staff, like our readers, loves to get out and about the county. So we decided, while we are traveling the highway and bushwhacking through the forest, to take pictures to see if our readers can guess WHERE ARE WE?

Our May WHERE ARE WE? tricked quite a few readers. We had guesses of the hiking trail along Cascade River in Lutsen and the path to the Devil’s Kettle at Judge Magney State Park.

A few people knew that we were on the steps leading to High Falls at Grand Portage State Park. The winner drawn from the correct guesses is Dana Grosslein of Anoka.

Dana wins a one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald.

Try your luck! Take a look at the June photo. If you think you know where we were when we took the picture, send us your answer.

The location will be announced next month and a winner will be drawn from all the correct answers. Whoever is drawn will win a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald (a $30 value). Good luck!

Answer to the June WHERE ARE WE? must be received by August 11, 2014


Too powerful to apologize?

I’m starting to think I should stop watching the national news. Recent news reports about mistreatment of our veterans at Veterans Administration hospitals, unscrupulous snooping by the National Security Agency and obstructionist tactics at the Internal Revenue Service really make me angry.

The latest news story to get my blood boiling was the congressional appearance of IRS Commissioner John Koskinen of the IRS. The congressional hearings are being held to try to determine whether or not those in charge of the IRS knew that some groups were being stonewalled in their attempts to obtain nonprofit status.

There are allegations that the IRS reviewed applications and those that seemed to have a conservative bent were deliberately set aside, delayed, and met with complicated questionnaires and requirements.

If these allegations are found to be true, that should be a cause of alarm for all of us.

It’s disturbing that the government—which is supposed to work for the people—is working against people.

This IRS situation should be troubling to conservatives and liberals alike. Because whether or not we agree with an organization or its mission, we should not be party to squelching anyone’s constitutional right to free speech. And what comes around, goes around. A shift in power could mean another segment of the population is targeted.

However, it seems that it may never be known for sure whether or not the IRS intentionally waylaid applications from conservative groups. In recent congressional hearings it was discovered that the IRS has “lost” more than two years of emails between supervisory IRS officials because of a computer crash.

It could happen. I accidentally deleted a year’s worth of files from my News- Herald computer. Every once in awhile I can’t find an article in my archive and I remember— it’s in the “missing year.” Fortunately, the missing files are on CDs and although it is inconvenient, I can still find the data.

So, it can happen. I expect better from our federal government though. Investing in redundant backup systems would be a good use of our tax dollars. It could prevent what is happening now with the IRS.

I hope there is a way to retrieve the missing information. I would really like to know if American citizens were targeted for bureaucratic bullying. I would especially like to know if the missing information was intentionally erased, like the infamous Watergate tape.

Koskinen’s response at the congressional hearings makes me suspicious. I watched in shock as U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Dave Camp asked whether he feels he owes the committee an apology for misplacing the information needed for the investigation, Koskinen replied, “I don’t think an apology is owed.”

I can just imagine President Harry Truman— the man who had “The Buck Stops Here” on his desk in the Oval Office—rolling over in his grave.

What has happened to President Truman’s attitude? What would he think of the federal government spying on its citizens and burying people in red tape? Would Truman agree that Washington bureaucrats should not have to be accountable to the people it serves?

Why does the federal government now feel it does not have to treat the public with common courtesy?

Perhaps this Robert Fulghum book should be required reading for government officials.

Perhaps this Robert Fulghum book should be required reading for government officials.

In light of Koskinen’s pompous refusal to apologize, I find it hard to believe that the IRS accidentally lost those years of emails. I’m reminded of those missing minutes on the Watergate tapes of President Richard Nixon’s era. After a long, ugly, investigation, President Nixon resigned—with an apology to the American people.

It would have been nice if Koskinen of the IRS had learned from our former leaders. From Truman—be accountable. From Nixon— apologize and step down.

Instead, Koskinen and many other high-ranking government officials seem to be emulating the miscreant ruler Marie Antoinette with her alleged comment to the peasants of France, “Let them eat cake.”

Maybe it’s time to turn off the TV. Or perhaps it’s time to place some new people in power.

     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

The government is merely a servant—merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them.

Mark Twain


Friday the 13th customer service failure*

If Unorganized Territory readers are paying attention they know that I do not suffer from triskaidekaphobia—the fear of the number 13. In fact, I have always considered 13 to be my lucky number. However, last Friday the 13th was not a good day. It was one of those days when everything that could possibly go wrong did just that.

Perhaps it is because Friday, June 13, 2014, was also a full moon. I’m a firm believer that people get a little cranky when the moon is approaching fullness and some folks get downright bonkers when the moon is completely full. So perhaps it was the combination of the dreaded Friday the 13th and the full moon, but last Friday was a disappointing day.

It was especially frustrating because it wasn’t stuff that made the day miserable. My car didn’t break down and my computer didn’t freeze up. No, Friday the 13th was made gloomy by poor customer service.     Sometimes

I am not going to retaliate by writing a column naming the person or persons who offered this inadequate customer service. I don’t think it’s fair to use this bully pulpit to do that. But I hope the folks that were not only not helpful in my time of crisis, but downright rude are reading. I hope they take this message to heart.

I know that in the grand scheme of things my “crisis” was not that big a deal. It wasn’t life or death. As a military wife, I’m quite familiar with the old adage, “Your failure to plan does not constitute an emergency on our part.”

However, when a person is facing a problem that was not of his or her own making—which was the case here—a little kindness goes a long way. In fact, even though I’ve heard the “your failure to plan” quote, I don’t agree with it. No matter the circumstances that bring someone to you for help, that help should be extended.

And if it can’t, which in this situation might truly have been the case, at least the frantic person should be treated respectfully. Condescending lectures and denigrating fellow employees are not helpful. Reading off rules and regulations before listening is not helpful. And finally, if a person can’t be helped, a simple, “I’m very sorry” can go a long way.

Friday the 13th was not a totally disastrous day. I had an entirely different customer service experience with Larry at The Print Shop in Grand Marais. I will publish his name here, because I do believe in using Unorganized Territory to give credit where credit is due.

I approached Larry with a very similar situation. Although in this case, my “emergency” was completely caused by my failure to plan. I had a printing job that had to get in the mail and time got away from me. When I called Larry about the job he said it would be Tuesday or Wednesday before he could get to it.

I didn’t have to beg. I didn’t have to listen to a lecture. Larry heard the unspoken panic and told me to get it to him right away. He juggled his crazy schedule to fit in my print job, even taking time to look at my project and tweak it, lightening a page and adjusting some text. Larry could teach a class on customer service.

I know that it’s sometimes hard to provide good customer service. Our office gets insanely busy like any other. We have a weekly print deadline that we have to meet and we have people who don’t understand that. Nearly every week we have a customer who failed to plan ahead and who pleads with us to take a last minute ad.

Sometimes we can help and we find a way to rearrange a page to make it work. Sometimes it’s really not too late, it can be published the next week, so we reassure the customer and send them on their way. And in the cases where it truly is too late— when the paper has been sent off to the Duluth printing press—we commiserate and sincerely say we’re sorry.

I’m happy to say I don’t often encounter poor customer service in Cook County. Most of the time people in our businesses and government offices go out of their way to be helpful. Maybe that is why it is so disheartening when something like my Friday the 13th experience occurs.

Let’s work together to continue to help one another out, whether our life crises are major or minor, whether they are our own fault or the fault of others. Let’s all try to go the extra mile like Larry at The Print Shop. Thanks, Larry!

Let us be kind to one another,
for most of us are fighting a
hard battle.

Ian MacLaren

* As you can see, I’m a bit behind in my postings!


Shorthand past and present

Texting has definitely become mainstream. I received a text from my mother yesterday. She has succumbed to the electronics era. Welcome aboard, Mom!

She started texting for the same reason I did—to communicate with her children. I was a reluctant convert as well, asking, “Why can’t you just call me?”

However, I’ve come to really like texting. There are times when you can’t talk on the phone. Some people are annoyed to see someone typing into their cell phone in a meeting or at a restaurant table. I don’t mind—I know they may be touching base with a spouse or a child. They may be reading a message that says “Please pick up milk” or “Don’t forget the kids’ T-ball game today.”

I no longer see texting as antisocial; I see it as a way to connect to one another. And, truthfully, people who are reaching out to friends, family or coworkers via email are being polite.

A quiet text is much less disruptive than leaving a meeting or the dinner table to stand alone to make a phone call. And it is far less intrusive than a phone ring tone blaring and a noisy conversation.

Of course it can be taken to the extreme. I know there are some teens who sit next to one another, sending text messages instead of talking. That is a bit sad. But then again, you can send those cute little emoticons— happy faces, winking faces, or goofy cartoonish characters—in a text.

So in moderation, texting is okay.

Perhaps I don’t mind because the texting shorthand used comes naturally to me. I’ve been using my own personal shorthand to record meeting discussions for years. From my days as a radiology receptionist, I picked up a few interesting abbreviations, for example, TX or CX for transfer or condition.

Abbreviating “before” as “B4” or “you” as “U” is not entirely foreign to me.

Perhaps that is why my mom has taken to texting. She was a secretary and actually learned shorthand. She tells a story I just love about my dad’s mother, my Grandma Tressie.

Grandma kept a journal from the time she was a young girl living in Black River Falls, Wisconsin through her family’s journey to Mineral Center, Minnesota. She kept a log of daily life at Mineral Center, which included notes on when she met my grandfather, an immigrant from the Croatian region.

There were several strange notations unreadable to her children. However, one afternoon, sitting at the kitchen table at “the farm,” my mom realized that the secret notes were in shorthand. She began to decipher the entry—and Grandma snatched the diary from her hands, laughing and saying, “You little brat!”

So, texting—and shorthand— do have a purpose. As long as we’re communicating and recording memories, it’s all good.

~  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Likewise, there is no evidence that texting teaches people to spell badly: rather, research shows that those kids who text frequently are more likely to be the most literate and the best spellers, because you have to know how to manipulate language.

David Crystal


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