West End News Jan. 12

A pack of wolves stopped by Sawbill in the wee hours
A pack of wolves stopped by Sawbill in the wee hours

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Election filings for township officers are currently open. The township system of government in Minnesota is the closest form of government to actual people. It is truly where the rubber meets the road. As a former township officer, I won’t lie to you - it’s quite a bit of work and responsibility. On the other hand, it is crucial to our civil society that thoughtful, committed people fill these positions. The townships have a real impact on our lives. Service on a township board can be very fulfilling.

In contrast to hotly contested national, state and county elections, the township elections are really more of a confirmation of those willing to serve, especially the clerk position, which arguably requires the most work and brainpower. In township government, if the supervisors are the head, then the clerks are the heart of the town. I would like to take this opportunity to directly thank all the township officials for their service to the community.

One of the unique aspects of township government is the annual meeting. Everyone in town is invited to the annual meeting and many of the big decisions, including the annual budget, are made by a direct vote of the people present. This is a wonderful example of grassroots democracy in action. The meeting isn’t even chaired by the township board members. Anyone in the room can be selected to run the meeting.

Years ago, I was selected to run the annual meeting in Tofte, which is normally a pretty straightforward task of inviting motions, facilitating discussion and calling for votes. In this particular year, a township supervisor seat actually had two candidates. Steve Krueger, who had helped establish the township and served as supervisor for many years, was being challenged by a young whippersnapper, Tim Norman. The votes are cast throughout the day, just like any other election, but they are counted and the results announced in the evening during the annual meeting. This time, the election judges headed off to count the ballots and were gone for an unusually long time. When they returned, they announced that the election was a tie. Suddenly, my responsibilities as the meeting chair became more serious and complicated. After consulting with the candidates, it was agreed that the election would be decided by the flip of a coin. Steve Krueger won the flip, which seemed to please everyone, including Tim, who saw the close vote as an affirmation of Steve’s long service. In the next election, Steve chose not to run and Tim was easily elected. I was later told that flipping a coin was not the legal way to solve the problem, but nobody complained, so all was well.

Last week, my wife Cindy and daughter Clare talked me into walking out on Sawbill Lake late in the evening to howl for wolves. Sometimes, if wolves are close by, they will start howling in response to human howling. If nothing else, it’s good for a few laughs to see three adults standing in the dark howling like banshees. Cindy has an acknowledged knack for getting the wolves to answer, so we let her go first. But on this particular night, in spite of a full moon, we got nothing but silence in return. That night, just before dawn, a light dusting of snow fell. When we ventured outside early the next morning, we were surprised to see wolf tracks all over our property, including right up to both doors of the house, the doors to the store and all over the driveways. It appeared as though a large pack had come through and checked us out just before dawn. She may not have provoked them into howling the night before, but we’re giving Cindy full credit for calling them in.

We’ll be hearing a lot more about wolves this year as the state takes over responsibility for their management from the feds. Personally, I like having wolves around, even though they do present some danger to our pets. I hope the DNR’s determination to have a wolf hunting and trapping season won’t run them back to near extinction. Like all of the predators, I feel like they are more valuable to our economy loose in the woods than as a rug in someone’s den.


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