State of the City, Duluth MN

Ness Presents State of the City, originally uploaded by Edith OSB.

I spent the evening with other members of the Duluth Public Library Board at the annual State of the City address. It’s designed to be a feel-good event, with awards to outstanding city employees – and it succeeds.

It’s also the occasion for Mayor Ness to review the past year, set the tone for the coming year, and describe his administration’s approach to solving the cities problems and using its opportunities.

Mayor Don Ness presented a hopeful picture – which is realistic when compared with the city’s dire financial circumstances a year ago. He was also realistic, focusing on the need to make the City of Duluth a “reliable partner” to business if we want to attract them to the city. Clearly, many of the 2009 successes he touted – such as reducing the time required to get a building permit by 30% – point to the need for focusing on this.

Taking the theme Setting a Foundation, Mayor Ness said that tasks like re-organizing City Hall to run more effectively are not glamorous, and don’t make headlines. But without them, businesses find it hard to operate, projects peter out and fail – and Duluth’s hope for improved prosperity would fizzle. He intends to continue to focus on these strategies, recognizing that they will be the source of good news for future State of the City addresses:

“This effort will require careful planning, difficult choices, long-term investments, and perhaps most of all, the patience to continue this effort. Upon that foundation, we will incrementally build prosperity.”

This was the first time many of the Library Board members had attended. Some of the city departments had poster-board displays. As you can imagine, we’re already beginning to plan ours for next year.

For those of us who came of age in the 1960s, civic pride is not something that comes easy. It’s easy for us to be cynical about those in leadership – and blind naiveté is always a pitfall. But there is a dark side to the skeptical cynicism too. While it might be hard to pull the wool over our eyes, we may be deaf to the Good News that is there. I’m grateful to for the opportunity to be part of the celebration this time.

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