An example of something we have too little of on the Duluth School Board –


Today I learned of a fellow who has it and I wanted to give him some well deserved credit. John Ramos told me about him this morning over coffee.

I got an email from John yesterday at lunch. He told me that the link I had put in a recent post to make contributions to Art Johnston’s Defense fund was not working. I thanked him by email and asked if he’d like to meet for coffee. I’d never met him but I’ve enjoyed some of his recent Reader Weekly columns about the Duluth Library and Spirit Mountain and considered him a bird of a feather.

I recalled dimly that John had many years earlier written articles that had soured some folks on him although I could not recall what they had been about. I joked that with his Latin name I probably thought he was a communist or radical or, John suggested, a “Che Guevara.” Those earlier stories had been about the booster-ism of Duluth’s elite when they pushed through the Aquarium and their gullibility in the face of optimistic consultants who told them what they wanted to hear. I confessed to John that I had written one column for the Reader which pointed out that, however it had turned out, it had been built with the rather lofty goal of fostering an appreciation of fresh water’s importance.

More recently he has taken aim the City’s involvement with, and financing of, Spirit Mountain and a new library. Like me he is very fussy about transparency which, it turns out, annoys a lot of movers and shakers.

He just wrote a first article for the Zenith City Online website about one of his heroes, John Morrison, and his controversial newspaper the Ripsaw. The things Morrison wrote about local bigwigs of his day are ghost peppers to my blog’s oatmeal. John also mentioned a related historical article by Heidi Bakk-Hanson about the victims of the Duluth’s infamous lynching. Both are excellent.

Here’s what the Zenith Online says of John:

John Ramos has been reporting on Duluth politics since 1998. If measured by the total number of people outraged by his work, Ramos’s career in journalism could be called Morrison-esque. He considers angry snarls to be a form of applause. He currently writes the hard-hitting City Beat column for Duluth’s Reader Weekly. An earlier version of this story appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of the Cheerleader, an annual publication published by John Ramos from 2001-2006; back issues can be found at the Duluth Public Library.

We could use a little more Ramos in the Duluth School District but he’s not the person I have in mind to award the humility prize to. That would be Tony Dierckens the brains behind the Zenith City website and many books and videos about Duluth’s history. Tony came to my church’s men’s group two years ago to talk about Duluth’s history. I was impressed enough with him then to suggest it would be great if our history teachers could incorporate his historical work in their classrooms. Then, of course, I let that idea drop when our school board decided to lynch Art Johnston for aggressively asking too many questions and defending his partner from administrative persecution.

Then I read about Tony a couple weeks ago in one of John’s columns bashing Nimby’s. John reported what Tony said while lobbying against a zoning change at the City Planning Commission. Tony was concerned about hurting the character of his neighborhood. Tony does not come off well in the story and I suspect it galled him to read Ramos’s portrayal of him in the Reader with its 30,000 press run. But Tony did the unexpected. He contacted Ramos and asked him if he’d like to write something historical for Dierckin’s website. What a mensch!

No one who would be a saint can be so without owning up to their sins. I don’t expect School Board members to be saints. I would hope, however, that they would acknowledge their human limitations.

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