In response: Standing on one's principles amid ridicule is difficult ... and necessary

Thin-skinned? Really? Does the News Tribune honestly think I would open myself up again for a fresh volley of irrational hate because I'm thin-skinned?...

Thin-skinned? Really? Does the News Tribune honestly think I would open myself up again for a fresh volley of irrational hate because I'm thin-skinned?

Bottom line: I believe in the Sister Cities program and have supported it from its beginnings in the mid-1980s. I think it's been unfairly maligned by many people. Sister Cities brings a lot of money and good will to our city and deserves more respect. I am the City Council liaison to Sister Cities. As such, it is my job to understand and to work with the program and the city.

With City Councilor Jeff Anderson, I brought an initiative to Duluth Economic Development Authority last year, requesting it send someone from the city on the Vexjo technical visit, which continues to bear fruit in terms of ideas and actions the city will be taking toward, retrofitting and reducing the city's carbon footprint.

A week ago today, my initiative to increase city funding to Sister Cities lost narrowly on a 5-to-4 vote. I truly believe the Sister Cities program deserves more money because it is doing valuable work in economic development and is generating tourism dollars and good will for Duluth.

Maybe the News Tribune and others don't see it that way, and that's OK with me; reasonable people can disagree.


In an editorial Wednesday ("Public office comes with jabs from critics"), the newspaper characterized as "complaining" my questioning of the paper's blog policy as it relates to anonymous posts and name-calling. I characterize it as "questioning" and pointing out the harm such posts do to civil discourse.

I had an excellent conversation Executive Editor Rob Karwath, who acknowledged anonymous posts as a problem. He shared with me that newspapers throughout the country are struggling with the problem and the way irresponsible statements from a few dedicated bloggers discourage regular people from posting and sharing their views, for fear of being attacked. It truly is harming civil discourse, as many others have attested.

Finally, I look at last spring's Sister Cities fuss as a learning experience for which I'm grateful. It taught me many things about being a public official. I will continue to stand up for Sister Cities in spite of opposition because I believe in it; it is a principled stand. Standing with one's principles among ridicule and opposition is more difficult, but all the more necessary because of the difficulty involved. I will admit when I don't know something rather than trying to slough it off. Clearly, doing that makes things infinitely worse. I was not my own best friend during that crisis. I'm human and reacted with anger to an unexpected political attack. After time has given me some perspective, I do believe the councilor who brought up the issue did so firmly believing he was correct. I just as firmly believe I was right.

Again, reasonable people can disagree.

I will continue to apply lessons learned to my work with the city of Duluth. I will not take the newspaper's or anyone else's opinion of me personally -- even if it is personal.

Many years ago, as a child, some of my playmates called me a name. I ran home, very upset, and my grandmother told me something I have never forgotten; her words continue to serve me well: "For heaven's sake, Sharla, because someone calls you something doesn't make it so; someone can call you a chair and it doesn't mean you are one."

I will continue to work toward elevating public conversations, and I will do my best work for the people of the Third District and city of Duluth.

When I e-mailed my concerns about the News Tribune's blog policy, I was making a genuine effort to reach out and to work to improve our public discourse, with a little gallows humor included, as my first sentence reflected. I regret the newspaper didn't see it that way. But once again: reasonable people can disagree.


Sharla Gardner represents Duluth's Third District as a Duluth City Council member.

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