The fan mail just keeps pouring in

Published in the Mille Lacs Messenger, Feb. 9, 2011

My biggest fan informed me of a sloppy statement I made in a column a few weeks ago: “Isle’s taxes are the highest of any town in the area, thanks to sewer projects, streetlights and sidewalks.”

I should’ve left out the part about the sewer, since that’s paid for by sewer and water fees. As for the rest, I should’ve said “thanks in part to streetlights and sidewalks.”
Apparently my fan thought I was criticizing the sewer, sidewalk and streetlight projects. I wasn’t. I was facing the fact that Isle’s taxes are relatively high, partly for good reason, and I was suggesting that Isle spend even more to fix the Malone Island bridge.
According to a Messenger story by Diane Gibas, the light and sidewalk construction project cost $477,236, with $237,000 covered by the state. That was a good investment by the state, but it was also a chunk of change that came from Isle taxpayers.
We did a thorough study of city budgets at the end of 2007, and the updated numbers are out there for you to review and make up your own mind. At the time, Isle’s proposed general fund budget for 2008 was $640,000, compared to $380,000 for Onamia. Ask your city clerk to show you the current figures.
I asked my biggest fan to submit a letter to the editor or a guest column on the topic, but my request was denied. Bear that in mind if you hear anyone criticizing me or the Messenger on this issue.
I got another piece of fan mail after we screwed up a couple weeks ago by failing to announce the dates of the Onamia one-act. I attended the play on Friday night, so I was a little surprised to receive an email on Saturday from my second biggest fan, who was “disappointed” that we didn’t cover the play.
I thoroughly enjoyed the play and gave it some valuable real estate on page 2 of last week’s paper. That doesn’t make up for our oversight, but sometimes it’s the best we can do.
Please note what I said in an apologetic email to the play’s director and repeated to my second-biggest fan: When you want something in the paper, be persistent. Treat us like we’re idiots who will forget, because sometimes we are, and sometimes we do.
Speaking of forgetting, sometimes we forget that our readers may be offended by things we find funny, like a high school boy dressed as a girl saying “My boobs are awesome.” It seemed rather innocent compared to what I see every day on Facebook and primetime TV, but my third-biggest fan was offended, and I’m sorry.
In this business, most of our hard work is met with shrugs or silence. We hear about tons of mistakes we make, but pats on the back are few and far between.
Sometimes we deal with the silence by breaking our cardinal rule: Don’t ask.
“How’d you like the story?” we say. (You know, the one we put heart and soul into and that made you, your kid, your fish or your quilt into an epic tale that would put Homer to shame.)
“It was okay,” they say. “But I wish you would’ve …”
I stopped expecting cards and flowers in 1998, and my paycheck is all the thanks I need. But next time Rob or Diane or Bob comes and spends a few minutes with you and does their best to tell your story, remember that they aren’t getting rich doing this, and a thank you goes a long way.
Daily irony: Just as I was putting the final period on this little whine-fest, I was visited by an Onamia basketball coach. “I appreciate everything you guys do,” the gentleman said. I’m gonna pretend he was speaking for everyone.

Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.

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