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It's Our Turn: Meeting brought down barriers

I've covered hundreds of meetings in my 34 years with the Echo Press — more than 650 Alexandria City Council meetings alone.

But the meeting I attended at the Douglas County Public Works Center on June 19 was unlike any I've been to before.

Five local government entities were represented at the meeting — the Alexandria City Council, the townships of Alexandria and LaGrand, the Alexandria School Board and the Douglas County Board.

The topic: Exploring the possibility of building new Lakes Area Recreation facilities on the site of the old Jefferson High School, a project estimated to cost about $5 million. I already wrote about what happened at the meeting. If you missed it, it's in the June 22 issue. In a nutshell, lots of questions were raised and the groups that are part of the LAR joint powers authority will continue to look into the financing and possible partnerships while researching what recreational programs are most needed and which ones duplicate existing programs.

For my own personal viewpoint, I came away from the meeting with a new appreciation for the elected leaders who attended it. They each could have stayed in their own "silos," wondering what the other groups were thinking. They could have stirred up a lot of anger and inaccurate speculation among their own groups, stewing over why this or that didn't happen.

Instead, they did something that probably should have happened a while ago. They all got together in one room — county, city, townships and school district — and had an open and honest discussion about the future of recreation, not just for the city or the townships that are in the joint powers, but for the entire region.

Tough questions were asked: Why doesn't LAR partner more with the YMCA? Why does the LAR want to move out of the space it's leasing from the county and is the county pressuring LAR to move? Why hasn't there been more long-range thinking or a "plan B" for LAR if it does move to a new location?

From my perspective, not all the questions were fully answered, at least that night, but I was heartened by the discussion. It was refreshing to see elected leaders having a respectful, productive give-and-take, and it seemed like a good start toward getting everyone on the same page. Many of them, I think, came away with a better understanding of what's been happening with recreation, the options that are available and the concerns of those within the joint powers agreement.

I've heard horror stories about businesses where departments are isolated from one another, where no one knows, understands or even cares what another department is doing. That kind of approach doesn't work in business and it fails in the public sector as well.

The June 19 meeting helped break down those walls and brought concerns out in the open where they can be addressed, explained, researched and resolved. That leads to better decisions for all the people our leaders are elected to serve.

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"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Al Edenloff

Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  

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