Stevens Forward! really wanted our county to stand out in outstate Minnesota. Was it so much empty talk? That assessment seems to be get getting floated. The goals may have more on-paper value than practical.
Two representatives of the group recently appeared at a board of commissioners meeting. It appears there was an atmosphere of humility. That's the impression I take away from a media report, a report not from a Morris-based media entity.
Humility yes, but there was a refreshing tone of frankness and an inspiring resolve to keep going.
Ray Farwell is chair of the group. Carolyn Peterson is coordinator. I remember working with Carolyn, a very pleasant person, when she ran our Chamber of Commerce.
Farwell and Peterson addressed the commissioners and said Stevens Forward! is redefining its approach. Stevens Forward! has county board sponsorship. With skin in the game, the board is taking an appropriate sober look at an organization that might be easily tagged a typical bureaucratic organism with far more rhetoric than action.
One can read the 14 "destiny drivers" and suspect much is rhetoric. It all sounds very nice. The language of such organizations always sounds very ambitious. It's like the Blandin retreats, I might suggest, where surely the aims are nothing but admirable. But how practical is it?
I used to have an occasional philosophical chat with Skip Sherstad, an ambitious and now-deceased public servant. He was only a year older than me. As a childhood friend, he and I often talked with candor that might not arise with other people in high-profile roles in the community. He and I agreed that efforts like Stevens Forward! and Blandin could be way over-hyped.
Appleton thought a prison would do the trick. Prisons and casinos are Hail Marys in the development world.
We have the finest possible attribute here: the University of Minnesota-Morris. Stevens Forward! talks about that attribute and how it might be enhanced.
Oh, there's no doubt we should all root for UMM. But I have lived in this town since UMM's inception and I know how autonomous it wants to be. Experience tells me UMM isn't going to be influenced by an organization like Stevens Forward!
The University acts like it's quite capable of taking care of itself. I think my former boss at the Morris newspaper, Jim Morrison, would agree with me.
UMM works in concert with the main campus administration. (I know that's politically incorrect and I should say "Twin Cities campus.") The University drives itself with carefully tailored objectives and goals. It knows completely what is going on with the stimuli around it. It isn't going to recognize a nudge from a small town organization of do-gooders who have a parochial lens.
"Oh, you want UMM to have an enrollment of 2100 with 1800 of them on-campus? Gee, thanks for suggesting that."
Those number goals are found in destiny driver No. 13 - lucky number 13? - of Stevens Forward!
Every few years some new do-gooder in the Morris leadership network comes forward and says "we need a better relationship between 'the college' and the community."
I discussed this with Jim once when one of these quotes was fresh. Experience taught me, I said, that UMM really wanted to be left alone in many respects. And while UMM would never proclaim anything negative about the surrounding town, it really wouldn't court any special (or certainly not symbiotic) relationship.
I guess what I resented, if that's not too powerful a word, was the suggestion that the Morris community was at fault for any division. To the extent there's a divide, I really think this is something UMM has to answer for. There's no need for guilt and self-flagellation out among us.
UMM follows its own inspiration, its own agenda. And this might be totally appropriate. So I eye with some skepticism the assertion in destiny driver No. 13 that "we must build a stronger coalition between UMM and the region."
Believe me, this is nothing more than a continuing refrain. UMM knows exactly what it is doing on its own terms. Let's admit, though, the main campus has some egg on its face with being too loose with money.
Destiny driver No. 8 is the type that would drive Glenn Beck nuts. It might suggest we're a hotbed of intense political progressives (or, as Mitt Romney might put it, "severe" progressives). It reads that by 2015, "we'll be the first carbon neutral county in the world."
"First county in the world?" Who wrote that? The whole world isn't characterized by having "counties."
Stevens Forward! wants us to have "viable models for green housing, neighborhoods and public buildings."
Yeah, like the famously ballyhooed, award-winning "green community" on the old school property, right?
One of William F. Buckley's early defining books was titled "Did you ever see a dream walking?" It might be an apt phrase to weigh in connection with much of what Stevens Forward! puts forth.
Stevens Forward! wants to lasso as many new retirees as possible, to settle here. That's logical since older people have done far better in the economic downturn than the struggling young adults, with the latter organizing in large numbers with "Occupy."
We might not be so enthused having all those ragtag young people living here. But the retirees with their Social Security checks? That's a gravy train. And it will remain so unless the likes of Paul Ryan seize power in government to carry out their wishes. And it could happen. Then maybe we'll all be poor. Elderly people can get their "coupons" to purchase private health insurance.
For the time being though, government continues to show the proper consideration for the old with all the dues they've paid in life. They are a backbone for small outstate Minnesota communities. In fact, heaven help us without them.
So please, vote Democrat!
Jim and I would definitely laugh at, or acknowledge with a knowing grin, destiny driver No. 12. It reads "we will construct an outdoor aquatic center."
Again, who wrote this? "We will construct?" Who is "we?"
The idea of an outdoor aquatic center, i.e. pool, has been bandied about from time immemorial here, to irritation. It could be a financial white elephant. Maybe a lot of the skepticism has been justified.
Destiny driver No. 14 is total bureaucratise: "By 2012 (hey that's this year) an intergovernment council will ratify a statement of interdependence that will guide us toward greater efficiencies among our public institutions and services."
As Count Floyd on the old SCTV comedy show would say, "Brrrr, scary."
An intergovernment council? To promote efficiencies? Creating something new, like MnSCU, to promote efficiency can have the exact opposite effect. New organizations by definition seek all the resources and largesse it can obtain. Glenn Beck would surely recoil at such a thought.
Destiny driver No. 14 suggests that the intergovernment thing will "ratify a statement of interdependence that will guide us toward" those greater efficiencies. Well, good luck.
Stevens Forward! is saying at present it will make some of its goals (drivers) secondary. It wants to "partner better with other organizations." Partnership, re-focusing, whatever. . .
The real positive change in a community comes when the hard-nosed businesspeople push forward, assuming they can identify a need or demand. Is that really in the cards now?
We learn that the Stevens County population has dropped by as much as 2,000 since 1980. I suspect there are forces behind this - e.g. tech, globalization - that are far bigger than anything Stevens Forward! or a like organization can counter.
Tom Brokaw talks over and over about the "depopulation of the Great Plains states." He talks about "courthouses located 35 miles apart, each with an auditor" - a system that "might have made sense in horse and buggy days."
We have a new or totally refurbished courthouse in Morris. I was there the other day and it seems opulent and over-built. What we had before was just fine. Our new Taj Mahal must have been planned when the Dow was around 14,000 and Stevens Forward! got formed.
The parking lot is too confining, inviting of fender-benders. And why on earth were those "islands" put in, making it even more difficult to maneuver around? Too much of the public's business is done on the second floor.
Are the commissioners wholly content with this? They got a roundhouse punch on trying to move forward with a jail.
We'll see if they approve of the current tweaking of Stevens Forward!
I'm inclined to be skeptical. I mean, "did you ever see a dream walking?"