Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials
St. Cloud Times, Sept. 22
Stearns sheriff shows the many values of transparency in government
For more than a year, the battle over the release of the Jacob Wetterling investigation files has been a huge point of contention in Minnesota. Compassion-through-privacy for Jacob’s family was pitted against state law and the public’s right to know why it took more than a quarter century to solve the abduction of an 11-year-old boy.
On Thursday, Stearns County Sheriff Don Gudmundson made it crystal clear: Keeping records in closed criminal cases presumptively public is the right choice.
Just before releasing the files, Gudmundson — in frank, pointed and stunningly critical terms — explained how he believed the more than 40,000 pages of records show massive failure on law enforcement’s part to solve this crime.
Gundmunson said the FBI got involved too early in the probe, and that arrests and interrogations of Danny Heinrich, Jacob’s killer, were poorly planned and executed. The sheriff held nothing back in citing the files as telling a story from which future investigators can learn.
He wasn’t the first to criticize the investigation. For years, the same public that demanded privacy for the tortured Wetterling family also demanded answers about how such a shocking crime could go unsolved.
To be clear, as journalists and the curious examine the more than 40,000 pages of files, that transparency is not an excuse to trample the Wetterling family’s dignity, nor the personal dignity of key people involved in the 27-year case.
Without scrutiny of these files, taxpayers, criminal justice students and other law enforcement agencies could not know, much less learn from, this exceptionally excruciating case. The missteps would never have the redemption of helping to prevent decades of pain and anguish for another family.
To that end, Gudmundson raised another important point Thursday. More files from the investigation — those considered FBI files — should be made public, too.
Part of the legal battle over the investigative files involved whether FBI-created documents should be released along with the local and state files provided Thursday, as required by Minnesota law. A judge decided earlier this year the federal files should be returned to the FBI.
Gudmundson said that amounts to about 12,000 more pages, and Thursday he essentially challenged the agency to release them to disprove any of his critical assessments of the investigation.
Honestly, they should be released for more important reasons: to help hold law enforcement accountable and, most of all, to teach the lessons within them that should be shared to help prevent future cases from causing the tribulations and trauma resulting from a horrific crime that shouldn’t have taken almost three decades to solve.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sept. 21
Inclusive hiring can ease Minnesota’s worker shortage
Black, Hispanic employment rates still have room to improve.
You can say it’s a sign of good times. The 2.9 percent unemployment rate registered in Minnesota in August is the lowest since December 1999 and is getting close to the all-time low, 2.5 percent, recorded almost 20 years ago.
But that low rate and other state job measures released last week can also be called signs that a long-predicted demographic squeeze now has Minnesota’s economy in its grip. The growth in the state’s working-age and work-prepared population is not keeping pace with the economy’s demand for workers. One forecast has the state 239,000 workers short of demand by 2022.
While the unemployment rate fell last month, so did the number of jobs employers created, down 200 from July. That could be a blip after several months of strong job growth. But it could also be a sign that the state’s employers can’t find enough workers to hire. Job vacancy numbers released Friday also pointed to that possibility. With more than 142,000 job vacancies last month, the number of unemployed people per vacancy was a record low, while the job vacancy rate was a record high.
But as the state’s jobs agency stressed, the labor supply has not run dry yet — not while the unemployment rate among black and Hispanic Minnesotans is still twice as high as white unemployment, as it was in August.
“Generally, low and stable unemployment and underemployment mean that Minnesota’s economy is running very close to its full potential,” said a statement from the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. But in this case, “the differences seen when breaking the numbers out by racial groups shows that there is still room for improvement in Minnesota’s employment situation.”
That message underscores one heard last week at the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce’s Talent Symposium: Racially inclusive hiring practices are a key strategy for businesses that aim to thrive during a worker shortage.
Tawanna Black, the founder and CEO of the new Twin Cities-based Center for Economic Inclusion, told the business audience that eliminating racial disparities in employment can add more to the state’s labor pool than efforts to attract newcomers and increase the retirement age combined. But if businesses are serious about hiring more people of color, Black said, they will have to work harder with the public sector on improving transit services, increasing the supply and stability of workforce housing, and offering living stipends as well as tuition subsidies to those enrolled in job-training programs.
That’s not the agenda that the business community has traditionally taken to the State Capitol and local governments. But employers should know that the demographic forecast is for a minuscule 0.1 percent average annual growth rate in Minnesota’s working-age population during the five years beginning in 2020. If that happens, it will be unprecedented in Minnesota annals. It demands an unprecedented response.
The Free Press of Mankato, Sept. 22
Invasive carp: DNR plan is proactive
Why it matters: Stopping invasive species of carp from getting into the Le Sueur River and area lakes will preserve precious natural resources.
A Department of Natural Resources plan to stop invasive species of carp from getting into area lakes and rivers should be welcomed and supported as way to preserve the area’s precious natural resources.
The DNR has been implementing a program to put electrical shock barriers up in small stream outlets that connect to Madison Lake and Lake Elysian. They are designed to set up an electrical wall to deter invasive species such as grass, silver and big head carp from getting into the area lakes.
While common carp are parts of most area lakes and rivers, the grass, bighead and silver — known for their jumping ability — create more damage and compete for the same food sources that game fish like walleye need.
The barriers could eventually protect 31 lakes and 142 miles of rivers, streams and ditches.
The effort is the result of a statewide study of the Asian carp problem that was completed in 2012. The barriers near Eagle Lake and Lake Elysian cost about $3.2 million combined and the money comes from Minnesota’s dedicated Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed by Minnesota voters in 2008.
While people don’t often think of recreational lakes as an asset in southern Minnesota, there are plenty to protect. Lakes Washington, Madison and Elysian get lots of recreational use, as do about a dozen other nearby lakes.
The invasive carp barrier project represents the kind of protections Minnesotans were thinking about when they passed the three eighths of one percent increase in the state sales tax to fund clean water and legacy projects. The tax now generates nearly $2 billion annually to protect Minnesota’s environment and fund other arts and cultural heritage projects.
Projects to protect our lakes and natural resources should continue to be supported. They’re a good investment in our future.