It is a daily activity — logging into my social network of choice, reading about peoples’ frustrations, about the state and federal government’s uselessness, and seeing it seep into confrontations among people who are my friends in “real life” (people I talk to in-person). At the point that I wrote this column last December, I was as frustrated as I had ever been. That column was a challenge to defend the community we love from an invasive digital community that has opinions about everything but never really shows up to anything.
A year later, I feel inspired. I look down Central Avenue at full storefronts. A drive around Osakis shows homes getting new roofs, windows and siding. Our community’s assessed property values are rising. Osakis Public school has both a growing enrollment and one of the highest graduation rates in the state (as of 2018). There are constant inquiries about starting a business, renovating a space, and building more homes. And something that matters specifically to me, we have a growing bank — a sign of more investment to come.
This is what momentum looks and feels like. Many of the meetings I attended this year involved managing “growing pains.” Much time was spent trying to figure out issues as they pertain to new building, long-term community planning, and charting growth that balances our community’s needs with its wants. As a community leader, this is the place I hope to spend most of our time, as it means we are being proactive in our planning to prevent issues that other communities are spending much of their time reacting to.
Civic engagement is building. In the past year, I have attended more meetings with 20 plus citizens in attendance than I had in all my last nine years combined. Most recently, I was at a packed Community Center meeting held by the Sauk River Watershed District. I makes me proud to see people who care enough to show up, reach out, and treat each other with respect. Unlike the droves of opinions that flood social media, often originating from outside our community, people taking the initiative to grab the local discretion that is still in front of us and hug it tightly makes us the envy of our digital peers.
As a community, we have a lot to be thankful for. This momentum has been built by the many relationships we strive to maintain year after year and generation after generation. Relationships among people, businesses, and institutions, grounded in our common purpose of protecting the community we love. I am thankful we have citizens and employees involved in all these areas of our community that care about what Osakis was, is, and could be.
I want to thank those courageous community leaders who have taken the initiative to advocate for the place we all call home. We are witnessing a new definition to the term “bravery,” which includes ignoring the ease at which people’s assumptions and surface opinions can publicly knife our backs and encouraging that disagreement be brought to places where we can learn from it. We depend on creating these bridges from the digital discourse to “real life” where we can understand the context necessary to show that voices can be heard without anything needing to go viral.
I want to thank the elected officials, Bill Ingebretsen, Mary Franson; County Commissioners Jerry Rapp and Randy Neumann, for their willingness to be present and listening to the concerns of our citizens. Responsive government service is at a premium these days, and we have seen more of our elected leadership than I have personally witnessed in the past decade. I appreciate the opportunity to work with them to provide a clear voice to larger government on issues that our local governments are tackling and the tools that we need to sustain our communities.
Finally, I want to thank the Osakis Review and its readers. Keep supporting this community in the ways you can. Buy a subscription. Keep your money in our local bank. Spend your dollars at our local businesses. Volunteer for local groups and boards. When the opportunities present themselves — speak up and show up. Nobody has a perfect record on community support; do not let that be the reason you do not try nor the reason you write off someone who is trying. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
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Osakis Voices is a rotating column written by community leaders who share their thoughts in their field of expertise.