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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

The life of a professional meeting watcher...

Catie Clark
Posted 6/5/24

An alternative job title for a journalist is professional meeting watcher. We go to all those city council, school board, township, and zoning meetings and write them up. Those of you who prefer …

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The life of a professional meeting watcher...


An alternative job title for a journalist is professional meeting watcher. We go to all those city council, school board, township, and zoning meetings and write them up. Those of you who prefer Monday Night Football to an Ely School Board meeting can stay home and watch the game. You can read about the school district’s new hypothetical contract for Zamboni machine deicer fluid, for an exciting savings of $4,567, in the paper later.
I can’t say that professional meeting watching is a career path every ambitious youth is keen to pursue. The investment in toothpicks alone is substantial, lest the sleepy eyelids fall too far downward during a meeting. In addition, I can guarantee that your average city council member might move to ban CPAP machines if I brought one to a meeting and needed to use it.
Alternatively, local municipal governments could generate additional revenue by subletting the back half of their meeting spaces to sleep labs. Local meetings could take place in the front half of a meeting room. Medical professionals who specialize in sleep could use the back half of the meeting room to help their patients achieve a deep and profound sleep.
One of the most striking observations that this professional meeting watcher has made over the years has to do with comprehensive plans. Just the words “comprehensive plan” are enough to cure entire rooms of meeting attendees of insomnia.
Comprehensive plans are mostly the same in every state. I have sampled the comprehensive plans of at least nine cities in three different states and my survey confirms that there will never be a comprehensive plan on the New York Times bestseller list. The biggest variable is whether a state requires them. Idaho requires every incorporated municipality and county to have a comprehensive plan. Minnesota requires them only in the seven-county metropolitan area around the Twin Cities. Ohio doesn’t require them at all.
Ely and Babbitt both have comprehensive plans. Putting on my professional meeting watcher hat, I will now ask everyone in those two cities who has read their comprehensive plans to please raise their hands. And now that I have counted the hands, I will note it’s a good thing that my ceiling does not depend on your raised hands to hold it up.
Comprehensive plans can have uses outside of city planning. For example, questions about Ely’s comprehensive plan could insert some real brain stumpers at the next Ely Trivia Night over at the Boathouse. I can see it now: the trivia MC pulls a question out of the “local government and history” category pile.
“In what year was Ely’s comprehensive plan written?”
Of course, a silence more profound than a library would reign because no one other than Casey Velcheff, Ely’s deputy clerk, would know the answer. For the record, Velcheff isn’t allowed to play on trivia nights because she knows all the answers. But if you need to know about anything at Ely City Hall, Velcheff is your gal.
Yes, I did call up Velcheff and ask her what year Ely’s comprehensive plan was published. She knew the correct answer off the top of her head.
The biggest comprehensive plan trivia question is simple: what is the primary purpose of a comprehensive plan? As someone who talks to those who attend a lot of meetings, I can say with confidence that maybe twenty-seven people in Ely can answer that question correctly.
I know the answer to this question will keep all of you awake at night. The insomniacs and trivia game fans will be up at o’dark thirty, cruising the internet in search of an answer. Fear not. I will save you the arduous task of finding and reading the American Planning Association website on planning documents.
The answer is land use as mandated by state law. As a professional meeting watcher, I am always floored that other professional meeting goers don’t know this. A comprehensive plan can include economic development, climate resiliency, and whatever else a bureaucrat may dream of adding, but if it lacks land use planning, it’s a not a comprehensive plan.
You might wonder why the word comprehensive is used. So might we all, but the answer to this riddle is buried in the 1920s and the origins of American zoning practices. The term comprehensive plan was coined by Edward Murray Bassett, the father of American zoning. For the sake of the attendees at the next Ely Trivia Night, Bassett also coined the word “freeway.”
Bassett was instrumental in shaping the American zoning system we know today. When he cooked up the first comprehensive plan in New York City, he knew he was drafting a plan that was comprehensive for land use. Zoning was in its infancy and the land use laws of the time were anything but comprehensive.
Cities did little to plan for all possible future uses at the time. A comprehensive plan that guided future growth was a radical concept in the 1920s, but planners and city governments adopted it because it was useful. The words “land use” were not used in the title because all the planning professionals knew it was implied.
Because it may come up at the next Ely Trivia Game, Ely’s most recent comprehensive plan was approved in 2016. The city’s planning and zoning commission is currently reviewing it for possible revision. It’s not too late to become one of the 27 people in Ely who have read the 2016 edition. It will do wonders for your insomnia.