City Beat

$3,702 of $3,600 goal

Raised by 41 people in 12 months
Hello friends,

When Reader Weekly Publisher Bob Boone approached me in 2014 and asked if I wanted to write a column on Duluth city politics, I jumped at the chance. I would have complete creative control over my writing, and I could assign myself stories. I began attending meetings all over the city, and within a few weeks I broke my first big story: Spirit Mountain, which everyone thought was a raging success, was actually failing. Today, with millions of dollars of bailouts behind us and more on the horizon, it seems funny that people ever thought differently.

Over the years, I broke several other big stories, including the story of the Duluth Public Library, which the Ness Administration wanted to tear down in order to build a new one in a different location for $40 million. Using internal City Hall emails obtained via data request, I showed that the administration and consultants had intentionally cooked the books to make the library seem in worse condition than it was. My story stopped all further planning and saved the city $40 million.

I bring this up because I have reached a crossroads in my career at the Reader. I have never been paid very much for my columns ($100 in cash and $100 in restaurant gift cards each month, in case anybody’s wondering), but lately I haven’t been getting paid at all. I work cheap, but I won’t work for nothing. Looking at the hours of painstaking work I put into every column, something in me just rebels at the idea. Plus, I’m 47 years old. I won’t be treated this way.

So that’s why I’m at GoFundMe. Since the Reader is unable to pay me, I am asking my friends and readers to do it. I want to raise $3,600, which will pay for one year of columns in the Reader. That’s $300 a month for 12 months. To be honest, I’m not optimistic that this will work, but I have to try something, because I really love doing my column. I have excellent contacts within the city that it would be a shame to throw away, and there are all sorts of stories that I still want to write.

So, the particulars. For $300 a month, I will attend (or listen online to) the following meetings in Duluth:
All regular City Council meetings;

All City Council agenda sessions;

All Parks Commission meetings;

All Planning Commission meetings;

All Spirit Mountain board meetings;

All Duluth Economic Development Authority meetings;

Some meetings of the Urban Forest commission, as time allows;

Some meetings of the Duluth Public Library Board, as time allows;

Some meetings of the Public Utilities Commission, as time allows;

Some meetings of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Gaming Commission, as time allows; and

Additional committee meetings, public forums, and stakeholder meetings, as time allows and interest dictates.

 I will continue to publish my column on its current schedule, which is about once every two weeks on average. I will also take one month off from writing during the year, though I will continue to attend meetings and I will pay myself.

If I do not raise my goal of $3,600, I will return all donations and discontinue my column. If I raise more than $3,600, I will use each additional $300 to pay myself for another month. Donors will have no influence on either the subject matter or viewpoint of my columns: You are paying me to be me.

If anything happens beyond my control, such as the Reader going out of business or Bob seeing this GoFundMe page and getting so mad that he bans me permanently, I will return whatever portion of money remains in the account to my donors.

That's my proposal. I put it out there humbly, as I have never liked asking anyone for money. I'm a terrible businessman. I'd much rather spend a week reading piles of government documents than fund-raise a nickel. But I guess hard times call for hard measures.

I want to give people enough time to think about this without dragging it out forever, so I’ve decided to keep the appeal open for three weeks. The archive of my Reader columns may be found at Please take time to read some of them and decide if I’m worth a donation. And please share this message with anyone else you think may be interested.

Finally, however this turns out, please know that I was always writing FOR someone: You, my readers. You’ve made it a great run. So thank you.
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And so we are done. Lee sneaked in with a last-minute gravy donation, so he has the distinction of being the first and last contributor to this campaign. Thanks to Lee and everybody else. It's been an experience.
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Hooray! We made it! With a full day to spare! Thank you to everybody who supported us.

Well, there’s no shortage of work. Taking February off has been a nice break, in the sense of just lying around on beanbags and not going to meetings or writing anything, but I was surprised to discover that the world didn’t stop when I did, and the stories just kept piling up.

On Monday, as expected, the Duluth City Council bulldozed over the Parks Commission and approved the Lower Spirit Mountain Water Access Park by a vote of 7-2. Some citizens had been hoping that they might slow the process, but they didn’t realize that the council’s vote was practically preordained. You’d have had better luck asking the stars to reverse direction than asking this vote to go differently. It pains me to admit that I only realized this recently. I should have seen it years ago.

You still have a chance to support Duluth’s top investigative reporting. Don’t be shy. If you’re a News Tribune employee who admires my ideals, but maybe you’re a little worried about what your bosses might think of your donation, just leave the office on the pretext of getting Chuck Frederick a doughnut—you can use this pretext for other things as well—and run down to the library and use their public computers to anonymously donate to my campaign. Then you can return to the office without anybody being the wiser. Don’t forget the doughnut!

Many thanks to Alison for her generous contribution. And thanks also to Emily L, who made a small donation and commented, “ha ha ha…you’ll never catch me.” We’re not sure what that means, but we always welcome the support, Emily.
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With one day remaining in the GoFundMe campaign, the mayor is lying under her desk with cucumber slices on her eyes when her assistants tiptoe into the room to inform her that the goal has been reached. The mayor groans and waves them away. As they tiptoe back out, they hear the mayor say something like, “Why?” Or maybe it’s, “Hi.” But they both agree that the last thing they hear before the heavy doors close is something that sounds a lot like giggling.

Yes, that's right, friends--against all odds, the goal has been achieved! Many doubted me in the beginning, including me, but now here we are at the goal and I can get back to work reading all these data requests that have been piling up on the floor. I’d call that a minor miracle.

Just in case anyone wants to add gravy to my mashed potatoes, you still have your chance: There is one more day scheduled in the campaign. Tell everyone you know to give till it hurts. Tomorrow evening I will close the campaign and take home my pay for one full year of City Beat columns. You guys are awesome.

Many thanks to Mark, Sarah and Mr. Anonymous for their generous donations.
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$3,702 of $3,600 goal

Raised by 41 people in 12 months
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Paul Ojanen
11 months ago
Joanne Johnson
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Lee Francisco
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Alison Clarke
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