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 duluthreader.com/contributors/j/10/110_john_ramos. 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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