Rising above the fray: time to put Forsman flap to bed

It was the irony of ironies that on Tuesday night, at the tail end of a meeting that attracted an overflow crowd that spilled out into the hallways, television crews from Duluth and even three police officers to maintain order at City Hall, the Ely City Council awarded the bid for next year’s July 4 fireworks celebration.
Those proved to be the only real fireworks of the night, much to the surprise of many who filled the room or followed along on social media.
The climax of the firestorm that erupted when council member Dan Forsman posted a political meme - on an internet site made up of Hillary Clinton supporters - was rather anti-climactic.
Forsman apologized, those demanding he resign or be thrown off the council kept their pitchforks at home, and civility reigned.
It was the best possible outcome to a situation that had turned ugly, with social media providing the fuel.
With this chapter of 2016 now hopefully closed, here are a few takeaways:
• This wasn’t city business
Despite the best efforts of some to turn the Forsman flap into a matter of city government, it clearly was not.
Kudos to Mayor Chuck Novak for his firm statement at the start of the night that the city has no grounds, legal or otherwise, to interfere with the opinions that Forsman expressed on his own time.
Calls for council action were misdirected and Novak made it clear, as he should have, that this was not a matter for members’ review.
• Both “sides” gave a little
Forsman showed poise and humility when he left the council table, spoke as a private citizen, and apologized to those he offended by posting the meme.
It wasn’t necessary to do at a council meeting. One could understand if Forsman had hardened his stance, particularly after he was on the receiving end of social media vulgarities, insults and even a suggestion that he “blow his brains out.”
Yet Forsman rose above the fray, offered an apology, and conceded that “suicide is no laughing matter.”
Meanwhile the tone and rhetoric from those upset by Forsman’s post changed dramatically in a week’s time, at least inside the council chambers.
While Forsman was chastised and criticized by a lineup of speakers Nov. 29, with some calling for his resignation as well as city council action, that stance had softened considerably Tuesday.
There were no requests for resignation, removal or council censure. Instead local business owner Peta Barrett, who had requested to address the council on the issue, simply asked for “a sincere apology.”
• Watch what you post
While Forsman clearly was within his First Amendment rights, the last two weeks probably served as a valuable lesson in its own right and one that many of us would be wise to learn from.
It’s easy, particularly in today’s ramped up political environment, to get caught up in the moment, toss out a zinger and hit “send” or “post.”
But at the same time, we must also remember that there are a diversity of viewpoints and the real possibility that someone may be upset, angered or offended by what we post.
This election season brought out the worst, particularly on social media, and with free speech comes responsibility and the recognition one “owns” what they post. For those in elected office or the public eye comes a bit more scrutiny. It comes with the territory.
• Ely is Ely, take it or leave it
One of the most troubling aspects of this kerfuffle was the suggestion that Ely’s tourism economy would suffer because of Forsman’s post.
Think about that one for a moment and think about a favorite vacation destination anywhere in the United States. Would you change your vacation plans because of an internet post made by a city council member in that city?
Make no mistake about it. Our area thrives on tourism particularly during the summer months and it’s a key cog in the economy.
Yet at the same time, Ely or any other destination shouldn’t feel a pull to conform to a political viewpoint just to attract business. For years, we’ve heard from some that Ely leaders should come out against copper-nickel mining projects and the promise of hundreds of good paying jobs in order to protect the tourism industry.
What’s next? Will the perpetually offended crowd demand “safe spaces” on Sheridan Street or a promise to support only candidates of their choosing?
Ridiculous indeed, and that’s why it was gratifying to see some of the nonsense dialed back this week at City Hall.
Compromise and common sense appeared to win out.
We’ll leave the fireworks for the Fourth of July.