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Thoughts from the Echo newsroom

Working at a newspaper in Ely, Minnesota is always interesting. For one, Ely is never short of news. There’s always something going on, although not every issue becomes a story.
In the past couple of weeks, we’ve had some interesting issues. Here’s our thoughts on how those issues have played out.
1. Superintendent at the Ely School District has been a revolving door since the unfortunate day when Terry Merfeld passed away. Many have held the position, few as well as Merfeld did.
Now the district appears ready to sweep the remnants of the Alexis Leitgeb era under the rug. Weeks after voting to suspend her, the district finally released the letter that led to that suspension.
There are accusations of Leitgeb defrauding the district, specifically in her travel budget. But we have heard nothing from the district on whether there has been or will be an investigation.
Leitgeb maintains her innocence and has been given a buyout that amounts to over $25,000 beyond what the district would’ve paid her.
2. Lynn Rogers wins one, loses one in his battle with the DNR.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals made what appears to be two common sense rulings.
First the court said to collar a wild animal is to possess it. That makes sense. An animal should not be treated differently from any other wild animal unless the government agency in charge (in this case the DNR) permits the activity.
Second, a den camera is basically no different than a trail camera. Hard to argue with that ruling as well. There is still a state law that restricts when an animal den can be disturbed, which also makes good sense. But today’s trail cameras are getting as sophisticated as the den cameras Rogers has used to educate the public about bear behavior.
3. Hockey coach issue needs resolution. No matter what side you’re on in the issue of whether Kurt Mattila should continue to be Ely’s high school hockey coach, you should agree that the system failed.
The school board is trapped in a 3-3 deadlock on what to do. This is getting nowhere fast. Time to move ahead with posting the position and let the chips or hockey pucks fall where they may.
4. The sheriffs of both Lake and St. Louis counties have a responsibility to provide rescue services in the BWCA. The citizens of Morse and Fall Lake townships, however, should not be required to foot the bill.
There needs to be an agreement in place to cover the cost of rescuing people. Ideally the federal government would foot the bill, perhaps through an increase in the permit fee.
It’s easy to say the person being rescued should pay but in reality that’s a long shot at best. If the county sheriff holds the responsibility, than the county needs to put an agreement in place with the local fire departments, ambulance service and first responders to pay the bill.
5. Sometimes you have to look beyond the trees to see the forest. Ely mayor Chuck Novak said this past week that everything is going great here.
Apparently he’s been drinking a different Kool-Aid than what business owners in town are telling us. The economy is not thriving in many areas and there is a definite problem attracting low-wage workers, a staple of the tourism economy.
Ely will not thrive based on the current set of economic factors at play here. It is really only barely surviving. The help wanted ads we run each week are not for jobs that will support a family, they are for jobs that help a teenager in the summer months.
We need a broader-based economy with more jobs that support an entire family. Right now our top jobs are either government or health care. That’s what Novak said. He’s right and that’s part of the problem.
Ely needs more than having buildings remodeled to move forward. Truth be told, we are still reeling from the drastic changes that rocked this area when the mine closed in 1967 and the resorts were shut down in the BWCA in the 1970s.
School enrollment is a pretty good indicator of how many young families can afford to live here. At 696 that number has apparently bottomed out and even shown a small sign of going up. But it’s a long, long way from where it was.
Those five issues and many more make up some of the conversations in the Ely Echo newsroom. We can’t wait to see what’s up for discussion next.

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