On Monday night, one city councilor stood alone in demanding city leadership focus on what is truly important to Duluth voters when he said he would vote “No” on the charter amendment to remove the word “chief” in city titles. A change Mayor Emily Larson advocated for because the word was offensive to Native Americans and others.
Derek Medved, an At-Large city councilor elected last fall at age 24, ran on a campaign of focusing on the basics for the city of Duluth – including public safety, business, infrastructure, property taxes, and housing. And he’s keeping his promises. After the amendment was announced last week, Medved fielded phone calls from city government representatives past and present trying to talk him into voting “yes”, and suggesting the change was actually to bring Chief Administrative Officer Noah Schuchman’s title in line with other city titles across the state, not because Larson thought the word was offensive, even though there was no mention of changing the title to match other cities in the press conference where she announced the amendment.
To change the amendment the council would have to unanimously vote “Yes”, which is what all the other councilors were planning to do.
When given the chance to speak before the vote, Medved said his vote would be “No” because this issue does not follow his back-to-basics morals and that he wants to “focus on things the council can do to serve the community and make a difference right now.” He also pointed out the different narratives surrounding the vote and suggested he would be open to voting for the amendment in the future if the city presented it as a change to match the titles of city administrators around the state, and if the city was able to first focus on the major issues Duluth is facing right now. A vote to table to the amendment was unanimous.
What’s interesting is that if Mayor Larson had proposed the amendment as a change to the title to be consistent with other cities, there would have been little concern or discussion needed, the vote likely would have happened in a few minutes time and would have been a line or two in the meeting notes with little to no media coverage. But Mayor Larson, to her credit, nary lets an opportunity go by without exploiting it for her own benefit. Putting a racial spin on this mundane change gave her national news exposure and made her a champion of ridiculous righteousness.
But the hero emerging from this story is a resolute 24-year old entrepreneur turned city councilor that isn’t afraid to call bullshit on city leadership that has wasted years on fluff while neglecting to do all the stuff the citizens elected them to do.
Duluth is dying. Duluth is one of those deaths that will be attributed to COVID-19 even though the city has been on life support with chronic underlying conditions for years all because of the cancerous leadership that has been gripping the city for too long. Duluth was a city most well-known for its high taxes and potholes, but now it can no longer hide its drug and crime problems, the businesses packing up to leave with no one to replace them, and now a devastating budget crisis that they are trying to hide behind cries of racial injustice regarding a word that has been used heavily since before the 1800s.
Duluth is lucky to have one councilor willing to stand up for voters and demand the city focuses on what really matters right now.