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County may take over 10 Commandments fight

St. Louis County may get the chance to play a role in Duluth's Ten Commandments controversy. After the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union filed action in court to force the city to remove a disputed Decalog replica from City Hall property and the Ci...

St. Louis County may get the chance to play a role in Duluth's Ten Commandments controversy.

After the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union filed action in court to force the city to remove a disputed Decalog replica from City Hall property and the City Council voted to comply, the county offered a possible out.

With a Ten Commandments display of its own in Hibbing that could bring a legal battle, the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners voted to ask Duluth to transfer the disputed monument from city to county hands and let it take over.

The board passed a resolution by Commissioner Mike Forsman requesting the city freely convey a 10-feet by 10-feet piece of City Hall property under the Ten Commandments, and leave the monument in place.

At the same time, city offices were overwhelmed by phone calls and e-mail as residents and outsiders gave opinions and advice. Petitions and fund-rising drives were started to force council action to save the stone or put the issue on the ballot and pay for legal expenses.

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But the council's 5-4 vote to comply with the lawsuit held as no one who voted in the affirmative choose to reconsider, and Mayor Herb Bergson signed the council's resolution.

The issue was not on this week's council agenda, but a large crowd turned out with speakers on both sides, ranging from a proclaimed atheist public school teacher to a Baptist pastor.

"It appears to me that a lot of the population of this community disagrees with that decision," said former mayor Gary Doty. "It's not just the Ten Commandments that people are concerned about, it's just the idea that somebody can come from out of town and tell us what we can and cannot do as a community."

Doty then presented the city with a check for $16,800 toward the estimated $20,000 in legal fees that the case could cost Duluth. The money came from about 100 individual donations, and Doty was confident the remainder was already in the mail.

"If we don't try this we will never know," he said. "The silent majority is here to speak."

Resident Iver Bogen praised the five councilors for standing up for the Constitution, and others who favored removing the monument called it a free speech issue.

When the speakers concluded, Council President Jim Stauber, who strongly wants to keep the monument, asked again if anyone on the prevailing side would reconsider. No one did.

Stauber then directed the city attorney to prepare an ordinance giving the monument and the land it sits on to St. Louis County. He said it will be considered on April 12.

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In other action, the council voted to change the make up of the Duluth Economic Development Authority. The authority will now be run by nine commissioners, and all the seats will be held by city councilors. The authority's executive director will be appointed by the mayor, subject to council approval.

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