I begin this reflection on the past year with recognition of the hard work all of my fellow councilors put into their jobs. I have the utmost regard for my colleagues. Together with the administration and city staff, we are making our way through the COVID-19 pandemic. The devastating toll that COVID-19 is taking on our personal lives and our economy could overwhelm us. Instead, we take big breaths, keep our chins up, and take the next right action. Throughout the past year, my colleagues have done an exemplary job of representing the people we serve and the community we love.
We have kept our focus on the well-being of our people and our local government through the ongoing political turbulence on the national level. The presidential election and the death of George Floyd continue to highlight issues that affect us all, especially our responsibility to address the systemic issues related to race in our culture.
In the midst of all this, your City Council effectively worked with Mayor Emily Larson and the administration to navigate budget adjustments necessary to maintain services and protect public health. We took all possible actions to support our local economy while engaging with our state and federal legislative delegations to leverage our fair share of state and federal support.
Some of the most impactful actions your council took in 2020 included the following:
Together with the administration, we faced potentially devastating budget impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the crisis was averted.
Councilors directly modeled the needed belt-tightening by taking voluntary cuts to our own salaries.
The Public Utilities Commission passed a vitally important increase to the stormwater utility rate with strong support from local businesses and with leadership from three council members.
A Spirit Mountain Task Force was established and is being led by strong and trusted council members.
An African Heritage Commission was created with the appointment of commission members and staffing by city administration.
The council unanimously appointed Councilor Terese Tomanek following the resignation of Councilor Barb Russ, who was deeply appreciated for her leadership.
Funding for the creation of a 24/7 emergency warming shelter and hygiene facility to serve our 200-plus “unsheltered homeless” is in the works.
The council approved tax increment financing to help bring Costco to Duluth with good-paying jobs and a new kind of warehouse-shopping experience. We expect Costco to bring great sales-tax benefit to Duluth. We continue to work with our planning office and community partners to address our affordable housing crisis. We made some strides in 2020 with the creation of 550 new housing units in the city; approximately 117 of those have some percentage of affordability.
As I write this in the middle of December, we are fast approaching the final two council meetings of 2020. On our agenda are many resolutions that keep our city moving in a good direction. We are poised to pass an ordinance to create an LGBTQ+ commission for the city, and we will approve our 2021 budget and its very modest levy increase.
It has been my great honor to serve as the 2020 council president. I look forward to continued good work with my colleagues in 2021.
Gary Anderson is the elected representative of District 1 on the Duluth City Council and served this year as council president. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune at the invitation of the Opinion page.