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Thumbs down to the perception that people are not allowed to speak at Cloquet School Board meetings -- or any other local government meeting, for that matter -- unless a topic is declared an “open forum.” To our knowledge, such open forums are rare. But the idea that people would think that local elected officials would not welcome input from their constituents is unfortunate and, worse yet, undemocratic. Yes, the school board developed guidelines for its meetings to prevent things getting out of hand, but if those rules are preventing debate over measures such as changing the number of hours students study art and music in elementary school, then we have a serious problem. If not at a school board meeting, then where is this debate supposed to occur? We encourage teachers, parents and other concerned residents to attend the next school board meeting Jan. 9 and stand up and express their opinions.

On that note, we’d like to offer a thumbs up to retired music teacher Sandra Crowley and school board student rep Anja Maijala for doing exactly that: having the courage to tell the board what they thought about the proposal being discussed by the school board. Again, it shouldn’t take an extraordinary act of courage to speak at a school board, city council, township, county board or any other local meeting. Such input should be encouraged by local elected officials. We certainly hope no local officials think residents, teachers and students should know their place and keep quiet.

Thumbs down to attempts by health insurance company Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota for its efforts to force independent clinics that belong to Integrity Health Network to negotiate contracts individually, rather than collectively as they have in the past. From all appearances -- and BCBS has issued minimal statements on the subject -- this is an attempt by a Goliath  insurance company to intimidate the little guy. As the lone Cromwell doctor noted, small clinics can’t afford to hire someone with the expertise to negotiate insurance contracts on their own, so being part of a group like Integrity has been a boon to him. Does BCBS really think the doctors and their patients -- who stand to be “out of network” if no contract is signed by February -- believe the for-profit insurance company is somehow acting in their best interests? We encourage people insured by BCBS to file complaints with the company, and legislators to take action to somehow prevent such power grabs in the future. We need to make sure there’s a place at the table for independent clinics and doctors in Minnesota, or we may lose them.

Thumbs up to everyone who’s in the Christmas spirit. No, we don’t mean all the folks out there buying gifts, although that’s certainly an important part of the holiday, particularly if you’re supporting homegrown businesses with your shopping (which is not always easy, we know). Rather we applaud all those like Dave Johnson, the volunteers and the businesses who donate to the annual Cloquet Area Community Christmas Day Dinner and all the Salvation Army bell ringers out in the cold and the people who fill their kettles and 10-year-old Peyton Koskela (see Page A1) with her toys for the animals and ALL the charitable donations of time and money going on around the region and the world. That’s the real spirit of Christmas, whether you celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas Day or a different faith.

As Mother Teresa once said: “It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into the giving.”

May you all have a Christmas filled with love.

Jana Peterson