Ralph Doty: Bergson finally gives John Hall permanent designation

On Thursday, after months of indecision, Duluth Mayor Bergson announced that he has dropped the word "interim" from John Hall's title and named him to the post of chief administrative officer on a permanent basis.

On Thursday, after months of indecision, Duluth Mayor Bergson announced that he has dropped the word "interim" from John Hall's title and named him to the post of chief administrative officer on a permanent basis.

Hall's work from the time of his interim appointment on July 3 has earned him decent reviews from city hall observers. But his permanent appointment only serves to deepen the mystery as to why, months ago, Bergson agreed with a screening committee -- appointed by him -- when Hall's application was dropped from consideration before three finalists were recommended to the mayor.

Shortly thereafter, Bergson had lunch with one of the three finalists and a search committee member told me that most members expected Bergson to return from that noon meeting with a decision to hire the man for the job. It didn't happen, and Bergson then named Hall his interim CAO.

The mayor's announcement is probably the best we could hope for under the circumstances. To open a new search now would be fruitless because Bergson announced months ago he won't run for another term. He has only 15 months remaining as mayor. Given such a short tenure, what applicant in his/her right mind would want a job that likely would be taken away on Dec. 31, 2007? Clearly, the new mayor will want his own CAO.

Finally, this observation: There is reasonable doubt that Hall meets the criteria of qualifications spelled out in the City Charter: "Such assistant . . . shall have had, during the 10 years immediately proceeding appointment, at least five years of successful experience as an executive or administrator such as would qualify a person for the performance of these duties." (Chapter IV, Section 19).


Before he came out of retirement to take the CAO job on a temporary basis, Hall was lieutenant of detectives in the Duluth Police Department. However, given the short time remaining in Bergson's term, the criteria for a CAO's qualifications are probably a moot point right now.

The confusion and delay surrounding the naming of a permanent chief administrative officer is, unfortunately, further proof that vacillation, wavering and mind-numbing confusion are alive and well in Duluth city government.

Hotel lobbies get louder

Several months ago I wrote about incessant and harmful noises from ear-piercing music, blaring television commercials and ear-splitting music concerts. It seems the more we complain about loud noises, the worse it gets.

Now we learn that some hotel chains plan to change the type and volume of music playing in their lobbies, shops and restaurants. According to USA Today, "background" music will become "foreground" music in many hotels, motels and lodges. It means the music will get louder. According to the newspaper, the hotels plan to cater to a rising number of customers who are "more comfortable with loud music." If this trend continues, most people will have hearing aids before they're 50.

Stick to real issues

With this country and the world in all kinds of trouble, I prefer politicians who campaign on what they would do to fix the messes we're in. But that's not happening as we enter the Halloween -- oops, I mean, the political campaign season. Instead, too many politicians are trivializing the upcoming election by attacking their opponents -- sometimes inaccurately -- on insignificant matters.

Take Rod Grams' campaign against incumbent Congressman Jim Oberstar, for instance. Grams has been criticizing Oberstar for visiting the district he represents "only 22 times from Dec. 2004 to Feb. 2006" -- a period of 15 months. Oberstar sees it differently, saying that during those visits he was here 84 days, traveling 10,910 miles within the district.


Make no mistake. It's important that members of Congress periodically visit their home districts to rub elbows with people they represent. Of course, the closer a lawmaker's district is to Washington, the more frequent and less expensive the visits. For example, members of Congress residing in Maryland and Virginia visit their congressional districts every day -- when they return to their homes each evening.

This silly issue of hometown visits should be relegated to the waste bin. It's time to talk about basic issues -- the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, skyrocketing national debt, global warming, the growing wage gap between the haves and have-nots, loss of American jobs to other countries and high energy prices -- to name just a few.

Lawmakers should be judged by voters mostly on what they do while on the job in Washington. If Grams thinks Oberstar is not doing a good job in some areas -- and all incumbents are vulnerable -- he needs to say so in specific terms.

But a challenger's political campaign that's mostly devoted to leveling attacks on the number of picnics and baby-kissing events a congressman attends in his home district, is a thin campaign, indeed.

Vote on Sunday

It's a disgrace. Less than 20 percent of registered voters in Minnesota turned out for the Sept. 12 primary election. If projections are correct, then less than 50 percent of all adult Americans will bother voting on Nov. 7. Even in developing countries where voters often risk their lives getting to makeshift polling places, a 70 percent turnout is not unusual. In Sweden last week, more than 80 percent of registered voters cast ballots in that country's national election.

Although this isn't an excuse for poor voter turnouts in America, the numbers have a lot to do with when elections are held -- Tuesdays in the United States and Sundays in Sweden and many other countries, when most workers have the day off and therefore more time to get to the polls. To improve voter turnout, America should change its election day to Sundays. But, because it would take a constitutional amendment needing the ratification of 35 state legislators, don't hold your breath that a change will happen anytime soon.

Ralph Doty can be reached at .

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