The good ol’ boy litmus test

Before reading this post, please respond to the following quiz:

  1. Do you think everything that has been done in [any given Iron Range town] by its local leaders is pretty gawl-darn amazing, that the city is a flawless ideal of 21st Century prosperity, and should be celebrated far and wide, regardless of critical thought?
  2. Do new or remodeled industrial mining supply companies on the edge of town represent a robust, diverse regional economy?
  3. Do you support the nonferrous mining project PolyMet no matter what, even in the event it doesn’t receive permits or is bought out by an international mining giant which sits on the reserves for 20 years until prices go up, or hires half as many people as it says it will?
  4. Are you willing to use public office for private marketing strategies.
  5. Do you have an angry, skeptical reaction to the abstract concept of “green space?”
Virginia, Minnesota

Virginia, Minnesota

Did you answer “Yes” to all these questions? If so, Bill Hanna of the Mesabi Daily News and some Virginia, Minnesota, city leaders want YOU to fill a city council vacancy left by the election of one of its members as Mayor last week.

In past vacancies that occur immediately after the election, the next highest vote-getter from the previous at-large election was appointed to the seat. This has happened before in Virginia and in several Range towns that I’m aware of, including Grand Rapids. This time, however, the editor of the Mesabi Daily News and some city officials, all upper-middle aged men (including one who was appointed in just such a fashion a few years earlier), have decided that “Fourth Place Does Not Earn a Council Seat.”

So, what foul monster did the Virginia City Council narrowly avoid having foisted upon its delicate sensibilities in the Nov. 4 election?

The answer is Mary McReynolds-Pellinen, a mild mannered planner in the county environmental department, who also runs a local arts organization in a historic opera house on Chestnut Street.

Says the new mayor, Larry Cuffe:

“Someone needs to be appointed who has the same focus as the City Council, Cuffe said. That includes running the city like a business, supporting mining (including PolyMet) and firms that keep the area’s economic engine running, he added.
“When someone runs for office, they may or may not have the same thought process,’’ he said. “That may be why they weren’t elected.’’

Hanna, in his editorial, echoes this concern, citing reasons not to appoint McReynolds-Pellinen:

• Anti-mining sentiments, especially regarding the new era of copper/nickel/precious metals that is poised to launch on the East Range.

• A lack of understanding of major economic development recently taken by the city. She said: “Given the lack of land available within city boundaries, I don’t think city officials have a great impact on recruiting large industry to relocate here.”


Well, what about $15 million in new development that city officials have recently worked on to add at least $360,000 to Virginia’s tax base — and all without touching general fund dollars?

And as for a large industry, how about Joy Global Inc., a worldwide leader in the mining business, that just two years ago opened a large new facility on the north end of Virginia.

Also, there is the Ulland Brothers Inc. new facility being constructed in the Highway 135 corridor between Virginia and Gilbert — an area that will be prime territory for more economic development for Virginia in the near future.

• She said she believes the city needs more green space. However, she did not address the financial impact to the city and the upkeep that more green space would require.

In case you’re wondering what the “anti-mining sentiments” Bill was so worked up about, this was McReynolds-Pellinen’s response to the candidate questionnaire about the city council’s resolution of unqualified support for the proposed PolyMet mining project near Hoyt Lakes:

I don’t believe that a resolution of this type has any influence on the process or outcome of PolyMet’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). I do support the regulatory processes that all resource extractors have to move through, including the EIS and permitting requirements for PolyMet. As an elected official I would rather have the input of city residents prior to lobbying efforts so as to have a position informed by the majority of voters.

Seems pretty reasonable. It would take a deranged propagandist to see this comment as “anti-mining.” But then again, that’s what Bill Hanna has become on the issue of mining. This uncompromising approach is slowing the necessary diversification of our Iron Range economy. It’s even hurting the actual mining cause by attacking the character and motives of people with legitimate questions that could strengthen the case for PolyMet in the ensuing legal process.

McReynolds-Pellinen responded on her campaign Facebook page with this statement, including:

My thoughts: First the members of the City Council are supposed to share the views and thought processes of the people who vote for them, not the other members of the City Council. They should be able to work with the other members even if they don’t share their same views.

Second, the question referred to in the questionnaire asked if I supported the resolution concerning Polymet. My answer, was aimed at expressing my opinion that the EIS process is in place to gather comments on the environmental impacts of a project. The Council resolution focused on the view that PolyMet would bring jobs to the area.

No one asked me if I do support copper/nickel mining on the Iron Range. Yes, I do, in part because the regulatory processes are in place to help secure the safety of individual health and the environment in Minnesota. In other parts of the world that is not so and the current consumer climate requires these metals for the cell phones, laptops, solar panels, medical devices and other items we purchase. I also support the direct and ancillary jobs that PolyMet could create when their permits are secured.

The permit process takes time and it will be many years yet before mining begins, so in my view, the resolution was not a necessary part of City Council activities at this time. There are more important local issues to focus on as City Councilors and comments on the EIS should have been contributed on an individual basis as the process allows.

It should also be noted that I have not been contacted by either the MDN, Mayor-elect Cuffe, nor Councilor Baribeau concerning my thoughts on PolyMet. They have however felt free to assign points of view to me without asking me direct questions.

The real problem seems to be that McReynolds-Pellinen is a woman with a hyphenated name, a master’s degree in “environmental stuff,” who believes in the arts and an Iron Range economy that includes more than just mining.

There are only so many ways to cut it. People need to own the cultural warfare couched in the idea that “someone needs to be appointed who has the same focus as the City Council.” 

Now, listen. There’s no rule that says the council has to appoint anyone in particular. Appointing the next person out of the field of candidates in a recent election is a practice, not a law. If the council wishes to appoint any given lumpy troglodyte from the back bench of the local boys in charge, they can. They have. This is the story of the last two decades on the Range.

I’ve been around these things before. When you open a seat for appointments after the election, you get a bunch of candidates who were too chicken or too lazy to actually put their names on the ballot and campaign. The result is typically an appointee who amplifies the voices of the people already on the council, with the reward being a chance to “run” for the first time as an incumbent. It’s often seen as an efficiency to appoint someone vetted by voters, especially when there were six candidates, not just four.

The Virginia City Council doesn’t need to appoint McReynolds-Pellinen to the seat. I’m not the boss of them, and neither is Bill Hanna. But if they don’t, when that’s what they would normally do, they need to be extremely clear about why. They need to realize that if “mining” is the issue, they need to explain how McReynolds-Pellinen’s position is so incompatible with their own.

From a distance, this looks like cronyism is the best possible explanation.


  1. I’m responding not to the issues you stated that need to be addressed in the city, but to the headline, which used the term “good ol’ boy.” While I’m sure that “good ol” boy” clubs in each city vary due to the variable nature of people, sometimes such groups are people who reinforce the views of the others in the club without considering other points of view. The other and new points of view may be worthy to consider, or not. The issue is considering new ideas, thinking about them, before working on them or rejecting them. If they aren’t on the table, the thinking never changes. We just have a group of people back slapping each other.

    We had such a group in my town which put up a wall with their supposed influence. I don’t want to go into the details, but the situation was very unpleasant and resulted in the official group of leaders losing power and influence for a number of years.

    Fast forward to the recent years. I find it interesting that group of leaders and business owners who do work hard in their own businesses and also try to put forward ideas to promote activities in town are nearly all women. Many churches and other charitable organizations, which do good community work and often raise lots of money, are often headed by women and have many women workers in other positions of leadership, including organizing volunteers. It seems to me that both the elected councils and self-appointed leaders in any community would do well to look outside their group, and look especially to groups headed by women for new leadership and new ideas. Women do know how to get things done. I just think they aren’t as prone to crow about it.

    I am not endorsing any particular woman or man for the council. I’m just trying to suggest that the leaders shouldn’t be afraid of people from different backgrounds who also know how to get things done.

  2. As a relative newcomer to the Iron Range, I moved here in 1999, it’s hard for me to understand how people who have lived here their whole lives seem to have such a short memory. Mining jobs come and go. How many Iron Range towns lived and died by the whims of mining companies? Whether they be domestic or foreign, when it no longer makes sense to do business here, the jobs will be gone. Hanging our employment hats on one industry is a lesson we should have learned by now. Let the mines come. Let them fulfil the requirements to do their business here. Then let them pay the taxes and employ us as needed. In the meantime, do all the other things expected of a city council.

  3. Excellent reporting. Thanks for providing an independent look at matters which would likely otherwise go insufficiently attended to. Or, maybe I just agree that McReynolds-Pellinen sounds exceedingly reasonable, and smart. Either way, I think this additional conversation is a service to the community, and I appreciate it.

  4. I’m all for ANYBODY who can get jobs up here. White, black, hispanic, men, women or whoever. What I’m not for is anymore talk about how things “should be” here on the Range. I’m so tired of how we have to diversify our economy, bring data centers, green technology, IT centers, blah,blah blah. That all sounds good but a company can start a solar panel plant in Texas, pay no state taxes, get a 10 yr phase in on property taxes and it actually is sunny there most of the yr as opposed to (Minn) 10% state tax and little flexibility to negotiate property taxes in a place where the sun doesn’t shine Oct, Nov, Dec. We have logging and mining as our main stays to build off of both require heavy machinery, build plants that service those 2 industries and branch out off that…. America is a big place companies can move anywhere- make it as financially attractive to build those plants here as possible. Hint, hint IRRRB. Look at Bakken area of N Dakota, they are not building solar panels there, they are pushing oil/gas driven jobs and watch the companies that service that industry build around that area…. That is trickle down economics at its finest… I can’t understand the folks up here who are anti “trickle down” economics but are for “top down” govt run economics, the main difference is 1 works (trickle down) one fails (top down). The fact that you would want to give our tax money (which includes IRRRB) to politicians that lie to us all the time and expect them to get us jobs (when most of them haven’t had anything but a govt job their whole adult life) would be laughable if it were not so damn sad.

  5. Ken – That attitude is killing this region and will kill it stone dead when we expend the resources. The oil fields will have their day, too. Oil is huge in Texas and no one can deny that it’s good to be Houston right now.

    Right now.

    But Texas’s real advantage is the fact that it’s diversifying. It’s generating tech, design and green technologies alongside the red hot oil industry (and hogs… you mentioned hogs in the other thread). But Texas isn’t the only place in the world prospering. They’re doing well in Scandinavia, Germany, and (as I mentioned a few weeks ago) Luxembourg. Very high taxes in those places. So if Texas is doing well and Sweden is doing well, maybe the thread that ties isn’t just taxes, but quality of life.

    That’s all I’m talking about.

    Why are you so dead set on keeping the Iron Range stuck under the command of one industry? What does anyone get out of that? Who benefits? I know a lot of miners. I know a lot of young people working in mining and they support mining, believe me. But they want communities and schools for their kids and spouses that are inspiring, not depressing. Your comment is utterly depressing.

  6. Aaron, thank you for this site where we can exchange ideas, I believe it is folks like you (your failure to see that regions of the country that thrive, do so off their available resources) that are killing our beloved Range. Port cities thrive because they have water access, oil/gas regions thrive off oil/gas, hubs in farming land thrive off shipping/selling farm goods, mining/logging areas thrive when mining/logging thrive. Until there is no need for lumber, a sustainable logging industry is viable, until you replace steel with something else, taconite mining will be here, while there is a need for copper/nickel in the world, Polymet will put people to work. That is not called stuck, that is called jobs. If I thought for 1 minute northern Minn could become the next silicon valley I would be so pleased it would shock you….. I am an older man now and see the world for how it is: competitive as hell for anyone who is willing to start up companies and trying to employ others. That is not depressing that is the truth. As a famous person said “if it was easy everyone would do it”. Most fail many times while trying to start a company, that is why the IRRRB has been so disappointing, they could/should help companies get started that have a chance to succeed up here. Taxes play a huge part in business, every break a company gets starting out gives it a better chance of succeeding. Even liberal as hell New York has tax free zones where they are trying to lure businesses back that they lost due to high taxes….. Not trying to be depressing, trying as my grandchildren say “keeping it real”.

  7. It’s utterly predictable that a woman with a hyphenated name in country environmental dept, involved in the arts who supports a reasonable permit process would instantly raise the hackles of uber pro mining supporters. Check, check, check, check and CHECK! Even the slightest mention from anyone about taking care to avoid harm, possibly irreversible, to our land, water, fish and health results in hysterical knee-jerk accusations that you are an anti-mining extremist, don’t care about jobs, yadda, yadda. Evidently, for the ubers it is inconceivable to be pro-mining and do our best to protect God’s country at the same time.

    We teach our kids look-before-you-leap risk management skills from the time they crawl to when they leave the nest. Don’t jump off that shed roof, you’ll break something. Don’t take on bank loans or credit card debt that you aren’t reasonably sure you can handle and pay back. Those are obvious and I’m sure most uber pro-mining folks cautiously weigh risk vs benefit economic issues all the time in their own lives but abandon prudent, far-sighted examination of cost vs benefit when it comes to mining.

    I think some people envision a mining boom like we had in the 70’s whether they admit it out loud or not. It’s highly unlikely we will see thousands of of long lasting, high paying jobs with the same great benefits/pensions again and it would be prudent and much more realistic to acknowledge that. I don’t get the sneering attitude toward business diversity especially when it comes to green energy. Over green energy 15,000 jobs have been created in MN. Hospitals across the country are going green energy and saving millions. I saw a report on one big hospital system recently that was reaping astonishing savings. Businesses are doing this because it is fast becoming economically very beneficial to them. Market forces at work. Somehow diversity has become a dirty word in some quarters but what is smart about putting all your eggs in one basket?

  8. Kissa, where did you get your 15,000 green energy jobs number? I’m invested in green energy and our jobs numbers have been stagnant or declining, we’ve found when subsidies stop or slow, customers don’t buy. As far as mining being a dinosaur business and has run it’s course, I repeat, until they replace steel with something else taconite/iron ore will be mined. As long as people use copper/nickel, minerals will be mined and the Polymets of the world will hire workers…..

  9. Gosh, I know my memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be but I couldn’t imagine that I said mining is a dinosaur business when I don’t believe it is. Checked and nope, I didn’t say that. It’s fascinating how you read someone words to mean something else. How do you do that? It’s quite a neat trick

    Study out now from MN Dept of Employment and Economic Development showing 15,300 clean energy jobs (solar, wind, bioenergy, energy efficiency, smart grid) surging 78% between Jan 2000 to 1st quarter of 2014 even during the Great Recession. MN clean energy workers’ wages amounted to more than $1 billion in 2013.

    Green, clean energy projects and jobs aren’t going away, they are growing which wouldn’t be happening if businesses and budding businesses didn’t think there was money to be made in it.

    Why wouldn’t we want to diversify in clean energy and other varied types of businesses as well as mining? The more clean energy we produce for ourselves, the less dependent we will be on oil, etc. Why wouldn’t we want to reduce air pollution which worsens our health? New report out that air pollution is causing increase in ADHD in children.

  10. And so it goes on the range….the men rule and go to the local watering hole on payday Friday . The only woman who was ever respected was Veda

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