This weekend the Duluth News Tribune ran a charming puff piece on the City of Duluth’s Public Information Officer, Kate Van Daele, and her husband, Steve, as a local ‘power couple’. One couldn’t help but notice how many times the article mentioned or alluded to the conflict of interest between their positions. Steve is the director of distributive services at CHUM.
Typically, the term “power couple” is reserved for uber-successful, financially well-off couples that make waves with their own money. Steve and Kate seem like your average Northern Minnesota couple, even though they just moved to Duluth in 2016. Perhaps the author meant ‘power couple’ in a slightly more slippery way – by the amount of influence the couple has with city administration.
The article opens with an interesting line, “If you run in certain circles, you’ll run into these two.” Everyone knows Duluth is the biggest small town in the state, but the circle around city hall seems to get tighter with each election.
We’ve spent the last few weeks digging into The Problem on First Street and its connection Emily Larson’s former employer, CHUM. Other prominent city positions are tied to the organization as well – former communications and policy director, Daniel Fanning, former city council member, Noah Hobbs sits on the Board of Directors, and now we learn that the city’s public information officer is married to a director and was instrumental in getting $50,000 in money/donations for a remodel of CHUM’s food bank.
Nepotism and cronyism in Duluth is certainly nothing new. Just last year, the news of the County Attorney hiring his son over 26 other candidates was met with only a few shoulder shrugs. Although it did spur the St. Louis County Board to adopt an anti-nepotism policy, it did nothing to change the hiring of the county attorney’s son.
It seems our city is being managed by folks that have similar backgrounds and special interests giving them a very one-dimensional perspective with which to make important decisions.
The organization that is tasked with managing the homeless and drug-afflicted people on First Street is failing. Is the city too afraid to do anything because to point out the issues would be literally criticizing friends and family?
It’s charming how the Duluth News Tribune tried to sugarcoat all the conflicts of interest between just one power couple in the city, but with a little heat, sugar melts right off leaving the sour reality of our city’s leadership hard to swallow.