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Our View: Appreciate those who gave, now are gone

Joe Heller

They served their community, sticking their necks out there and leaving themselves open and vulnerable to criticism and worse. Whether we always agreed with their decisions or their politics or their stands or the things they did and said, they still deserve our gratitude and our thanks and our appreciation.

A Duluth city councilor (Howie Hanson, representative of District 4, which covers Duluth Heights, Piedmont Heights, Lincoln Park, and parts of West Duluth) and two School Board members (Art Johnston in western-Duluth's District 4 and At Large member Harry Welty) fell short in their bids for reelection this fall and will be replaced early this year.

In addition, School Board member Annie Harala chose not to seek reelection, stepping away from elective office before stepping into a leadership role with U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan's re-election campaign.

Minnesota's U.S. Sen. Al Franken made the hard decision to resign after allegations of impropriety. His final day is today. He's being replaced by Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, the pick of Gov. Mark Dayton.

Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen also stepped away this past year after announcing his resignation in late 2016. He cited a lack of enthusiasm for the position and health issues, revealing later that he was diagnosed with a terminal lung illness. Hagen had made national headlines and apologized in 2015 for a Facebook post in which he disparaged President Barack Obama.

We all have our lists of those who played roles big and small in our lives and in our communities and who we say goodbye to now along with another year passed. Folks like Hermantown High School hockey coach Bruce Plante, who retired in the spring after 28 years behind the bench, 13 state tournament appearances, and three state championships; Duluth Police Lt. Brad Wick, who retired after 31 celebrated years and a Medal of Valor in 2015 from former Vice President Joe Biden; and others.

It's no small commitment, this taking your turn in public service, in elected office, or in other high-profile leadership roles on which our communities depend and need. There's responsibility. There's time away from family, leisure activities, and other pursuits. For most public servants, especially on the local level, it isn't the money that makes it all worthwhile. Or the notoriety.

Every great community needs great citizens to step up, to lead, to make their corners of the world better, more prosperous, cleaner, and safer. We need qualified candidates and quality public leaders.

May all of our leaders and others lost this past year be remembered fondly and be revered always. May they be thanked and appreciated. And may they leave their positions satisfied that they faithfully served and served well, to the best of their abilities.

They can be appreciated just for putting themselves out there — for being willing.