Our View: Thumbs up, thumbs down

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Thumbs up to the students and staff at the Cloquet Area Alternative Education Program and their partners in Restorative Practices. They really are changing the world with their circles: teaching kids how to own their mistakes and move on, how to relate to one another and their teachers, how to discuss problems and issues in a civil manner (even when they end up agreeing to disagree). Now think of the way these tiny circles of people will keep affecting other people as they grow up and move on. Wouldn't it be fantastic if every member of Congress, every local elected official, every citizen, every child, could participate in this fantastic program?

Thumbs down to drivers who aren't obeying the laws of the road at any time, but particularly those who are speeding or otherwise not paying proper attention when pedestrians are present. There's a new school on Washington Avenue in Cloquet, and people need to slow down and follow the new 20 mph speed limit from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. They need to stop when pedestrians are trying to cross the road at the crosswalk there and elsewhere. And they need to drive carefully, because sometimes kids make poor decisions. Let's make sure it's not the death of one of them.

Thumbs up to Sappi — both the local and the international leaders — for keeping the Cloquet mill viable at a time when many pulp and paper mills are going out of business. It's been a few years since the South African-owned company ponied up $170 million to remodel the pulp mill so it could create chemical cellulose, along with $19 million to improve the coated paper-making operations at the mill. There's more investment to come, they say. We say, "Thank you, Sappi, for believing in us." And thanks to the local managers and all the employees who work so hard everyday to make our mill one of the top performing and most environmentally-friendly paper mills in the world.

Thumbs up to Cloquet School Board members for voting to pay the cost of taking the ACT test — one time only — for any Cloquet High School junior who opts in. Three years ago, the state mandated that all juniors take the test and paid for it. Last year, the state allowed juniors to opt-out, but still paid for all who took the test. This year, the state says it will only pay for those who opt-in and income qualify for free-and-reduced lunch. Other students either have to pay themselves or the school district must pay. At $62.50 a pop, it's not a cheap test. But it is an extremely important one and we applaud the board for its commitment to help as many of our students as possible advance to higher education.

Thumbs down to having more uniformed on-duty police officers at Cloquet City Council meetings than there are audience members. While it's great to have the Cloquet Police Department staffed at record numbers — because we want a strong force that can respond to calls — it is unnecessary to have four on-duty officers at City Hall during council meetings, as was apparently the case Sept. 12 (when there were only three people in the audience). When asked why police are always at the meetings now, Mayor Dave Hallback said he and other councilors sometimes request a police presence, especially when they've received disturbing phone calls. That's fine. But an excessive police presence can have a chilling effect on free speech, even if that's not the intent. It's just human nature to worry that by speaking out on contentious issues (like the police issues over the past several months), a person could face retribution or extra scrutiny — and we think At-Large Councilor Adam Bailey was over-simplifying when he argued that officers aren't holding a gun to citizens' heads and telling them not to speak. And finally, with the average rate of pay and benefits for a patrol officer at nearly $40 an hour, it's not a good use of taxpayer dollars to have four of them there.

~ Jana Peterson