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The Long Way Home

I’m a bit late to the game commenting on this, and some of my cohorts may tell me it’s all old news—just forget about it.

I can’t.

On April 9, the Cook County Board of Com­missioners, after reviewing a proposal from an out-of-town design firm for a new courthouse and improved cop shop, voted three to two to proceed with the planning process for the $32 million project.

At a meeting of the Board on April 23, the county administrator suggested the commis­sioners “pause” the design process, and the five elected officials agreed. Finding outside funding to proceed with the project was prob­lematic.

All the brouhaha over the proposal left me thinking about the proper role of local govern­ments and how we are a trusting population.

The proposal for the so-called Justice Cen­ter results from the county’s Capital Improve­ment Plan (CIP) process. The CIP addresses deteriorating county-owned properties and cramped working conditions at the histor­ic Cook County Courthouse headquarters, a building constructed in 1911.

The new courthouse design, which is part of the Justice Center proposal, offers a safer, modernized area for county attorneys to labor for the public good and for the District Court judge to have private restroom facilities. Ad­jacent to the cop shop, the large, lake-facing glass front of the new courthouse affords a sit­ting judge spectacular views of Lake Superior while deliberating the fate of parties unfortu­nate enough to appear before the court.

We naturally tend to accept and trust things figures of authority and perceived expertise spew out, even when the information they provide isn’t necessarily accurate. This accep­tance is due to a cognitive condition known as authority bias.

We strive to drink eight glasses of water dai­ly, attempt 10,000 steps every 24 hours, and schedule a dentist appointment twice a year. We assume that since these recommendations come from some in the healthcare professions they are as close to the gospel truth as, well, the gospels.

Remember, we are the ultimate guardians of our personal well-being, and critical thinking should always be at play. It’s not enough to ac­cept what’s presented to us at face value.

We must ingest enough liquids daily, but that might be four glasses of water, a few cups of coffee, and plenty of water-filled vegetables.

Movement is essential for physical health, but step counting only makes money for pedometer makers and removes your focus from more im­portant things.

Two visits to the dentist each year are pretty costly unless you have a boatload of cash or ex­cellent employer-provided health insurance.

Elected officials and bureaucrats are often granted an authority bias.

Cook County ranks 80th of Minnesota’s 87 counties by population. She ranks 87th in popu­lation density with 1.6 persons per square mile. Ramsey County, where the legislature sits and passes mandates for counties, funded or not, is first in density with 3,100 people per square mile.

I know the legislature hasn’t mandated a justice center for the county of Cook. Instead, the county board is examining ways to prop­erly maintain its physical assets and house a growing staff, some of whom are toiling in state-mandated positions. Okay.

However, some healthy skepticism, evident in some elected officials but not in others, is rea­sonable.

For instance, the proposed cost of the justice center, $32 million, is more than $5,700 for ev­ery man, woman, and child tallied in the most recent census of Cook County. For a family of four, that’s enough to provide top-notch health insurance for a year or two, maybe a down payment on a home, or even enough to buy a decent used car.

Local government is at the grassroots of public policy. It exists to improve the lives of as many people under its jurisdiction as possible. It must fight, even defy, the bureaucratic insanity of governing mandates that violate common sense.

For decades, people have said the govern­ment should run itself more like a business. I think entrepreneurs should run local govern­ments. They are the kind of people who do the most with the least. They see opportunities for new services and processes to improve peo­ple’s lives while keeping costs to a minimum.

We live in a complex world, and we’re com­forted by authority figures who present visions of solutions to complex problems.

Don’t be deceived.

Although we always need bureaucrats, and consultants less often, the best solutions will usually bubble up from the people.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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