Minnesota Cities Magazine
More from Jul-Aug 2017 issue

St. Paul to City Hall: ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’

David Unmacht, LMC executive directorBy David Unmacht

Most would agree that the quote, “May you live in interesting times,” is fitting for 2017. Dare anyone argue we live in uninteresting times? What is an uninteresting time anyway? Can we all agree that we would rather live in interesting times than uninteresting times? The answer, of course, is dependent upon the circumstances surrounding the times. However, to clarify all of this, I needed to know more about this phrase, its meaning, and its source. So, I did what anyone else would do in this situation: I Googled it.

It is often reported as being an ancient phrase of Chinese origin—and believed to be more of a curse than a blessing. However, serious doubt remains, as the phrase is neither Chinese nor ancient. “It was first used by Sir Austen Chamberlin in 1936,” according to a post on Quora. com by Peter S. Magnusson, “and later popularized through a speech by Robert F. Kennedy in 1966.” Magnusson notes that the “Chinese curse element was likely added by Sir Chamberlin as an (effective) embellishment.” After reading this, I came to the conclusion that the phrase is as relevant today as it was in the 1930s and 1960s.

Four familiar locations provide relevantQuote: The exciting thing is that settings for our current “interesting times.”

Washington, D.C. I could stop with those 12 letters without further explanation; really, I could. Whether you support or oppose the current administration, in my lifetime—except for perhaps the end of the Nixon administration— there has not been more uncertainty and anxiety emanating from our nation’s capital.

With that understanding, the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) Board of Directors has adopted a more aggressive federal advocacy strategy. We will seek to communicate, build relationships, and partner on important legislation and administrative rule-making with all the members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation regardless of party affiliation. Now more than ever, the voice of our Minnesota cities needs to be heard in the halls of Congress and in the White House.

St. Paul, Minnesota. As I write this, our state legislative leaders have decided to pursue litigation to challenge Gov. Dayton’s line-item veto. Some are calling this a “constitutional crisis.” In Minnesota—are you kidding me? I thought I would never hear those two words in our proud state.

Yet our work continues, and the League, with great support and help from our members and city officials, spent considerable time and effort during the 2017 session advocating for local control. The concept of local control is at the core of our cities’ cultures. Our advocacy efforts were largely successful, but we have a lot of preparation and planning to do for the 2018 session.

145 University Avenue West. This is the League’s address. We, too, are part of these interesting times. There is a lot happening here, including approving a fiscal year 2018 budget with a zero percent dues increase, adopting our first-ever capital improvement plan, exploring a remodel of our office building to increase efficiencies, and seeing the recent retirement of 40-year veteran Pete Tritz. It’s clear: times are changing. The League must adapt and evolve as we continue to serve as your effective local government advocate and representative.

City halls. All 853. Think about the times you are facing. You’re dealing with the rapid expansion of technology, unmet infrastructure needs, pressure to provide public safety and well-being, the need to respond to changing demographics, and to attract the jobs that are so important to your local economy. With those jobs comes housing, education, transportation, etc. As similar as your cities are, you also have very different needs and expectations. We hear it every day in the questions and concerns you express to us.

White Bear Lake Mayor and LMC President Jo Emerson recently noted, “Our cities’ core mission is generally the same, and even our problems are alike, but the severity of our challenges differ per city and community.” The League’s ultimate objective is to serve all our members when needed.

The exciting thing is that “interesting times” doesn’t mean bad times; rather, it implies energy, opportunity, and change. Upon reflection, maybe I had the wrong opening quote. Perhaps the song from Bob Dylan’s album with the same name is more apropos: “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”

David Unmacht is executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: dunmacht@lmc.org or (651) 281-1205.

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