One hopes, when writing opinions for publication, the offering might stimulate a sincere, meaningful, factually-based dialogue on an issue and hopefully present insight and perspective that might not be readily apparent to the public. That’s the noble, driving motivation of any intellectually honest writer. I like to believe the offering is crafted absent of personal axe grinding or selfish purpose.
As a freelance non-fiction author, I subscribe to that honorable journalistic principle. The most rewarding aspect of opinion writing is when one succeeds in engaging the reader in healthy debate. That suggests someone is paying attention to your argument.
When one expresses views publicly, reader reaction can be positive or negative. One must prepare for both responses. If one is thin-skinned, opinion writing is not a good choice for self-expression. That notwithstanding, any feedback can be very revealing in various ways.
Following the publication of my most recent of many Viewpoint columns on the new bridge (see Gazette, 5/23/13, A parallax view of the St. Croix River’s future), I received a personal letter from one of Stillwater’s prominent senior citizens who I’ll not identify. Suffice to say, in the past he’s complained the Gazette has never published his letters to the editor. I thanked him for his interest and, as a professional courtesy, advised him to do his factual homework before writing if he wishes to be recognized. Nevertheless, the man continues to comment on my columns.
His June 10 letter concludes, “In the future, I ask that you don’t write anymore articles in the “Stillwater Gazette” about local issues since you don’t live in town.”
Not to dismiss his comment, which may reflect the opinion of other Gazette readers, I thought it presents a consideration that seems to be ignored or overlooked by my critics in the brouhaha over the bridge and other major community matters in Stillwater and the Upper St. Croix.
My family’s history in the community is well established. I was raised in Stillwater, went to school there, have extended family living in the area, visit frequently for athletic and other events, follow local developments in the papers and communicate regularly with residents up and down the river. I would have made Stillwater my home hen I returned to the area in the late 1990s, but it was too expensive on pension income and I didn’t want to be a first-hand witness to the ongoing socio-political deterioration and misappropriation of public resources in the historic community in which I grew up.
So I observe from a refuge in the Wisconsin wilderness. And, with a pristine record of paying federal income taxes, I exercise every right to comment on the way my money is being spent and will continue to do so.
- The Lift Bridge: This month’s closure of the bridge because of a frayed cable after a nearly $3.5 million rehabilitation last year, is a continuing folly. I’m confident somewhere out there is an enterprising Hollywood bird dog looking to exploit the absurdities and financial stupidity associated with the ongoing Stillwater bridge saga. While I’m not given to humorous screenwriting, I can see the possibilities for a great comedy: despite the expense and other pressing socio-economic considerations, a small Midwestern town elevates preservation of a rusting, obsolete bridge to the symbolic level of the Biblical golden calf no matter what, and at any cost. I bet I could sell that in Hollywood if I chose to pursue the idea. With respect to the new bridge under construction, there were many far less environmentally intrusive and less costly alternatives to a new river crossing at or near Stillwater. I suggest history will reflect the new bridge is an unjustified, unbridled assault on the upper river’s fragile ecology and an insult to the Valley’s iconic natural beauty.
- The proposed new armory: Locating a massive, expensive military installation in the midst of a congested residential area with restricted access and exit, overburdened utilities and on undeveloped land far more suitable for an environmentally compatible park or recreational development is ludicrous. It violates the most fundamental concept for establishment of a military base of operations. There are many other places in the surrounding area far more adaptable for military use.
- The Boomsite overlook: Each time I drive from the Twin Cities after a session at the VA hospital, I go through Stillwater and stop at the Boomsite. While huge funds are being spent on the new bridge and the armory, one of the most irreplaceable historic, scenic natural assets on the river north of Stillwater is left to decay, vandals and general abuse. I’m old enough to remember when the WPA and the CCC created the overlook with hand-held tools and crude power equipment of the day. It was a labor of love, even then, with men voluntarily working for a pittance motivated by care of the river cliffs and caves, believing the site would become a monument to their work. Where are the community’s priorities?
- Stillwater school district: The high-level administration personnel turnover is indicative of pervase dysfunction and the sitting school board is essentially blind to the ongoing education institutional palace intrigue. Meanwhile, the district focuses on teaching method gimmickry and spending huge amounts of taxpayer and grant money on distracting electronic gadgets that will become obsolete almost as it’s delivered to the detriment of hands-on environmental and natural sciences.
Back to where we began, the letter from one of my fans quoted at the beginning of this column. The writer’s comment reflects the parochial mindset that’s plagued the Stillwater community for as long as I can remember. The writer obviously sees the city as his private domain.
In the feedback from readers of my column, I seldom find a message of genuine civil responsibility. Most simply attack the messenger instead of factually confronting the matter at hand.
Brad Ayers, a Stillwater native and a regular columnist for the Gazette, writes from his wilderness home in northwest, Wisconsin. He began his journalistic work with the paper in 1952 while still in high school. His forthcoming, non-fiction book, “Zenith Secret,” delves into the assassination of the Kennedy brothers and will be released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of JFK’s murder.