The Canadian fires had cast a veritable June gloom over our Union Plaza digs. Even the office mercury vapors had a gray haze about them. The door opened and everything brightened up. “Dobry den…Hello? Good day?” The bright brown eyes and big smiles were all too familiar: Oksana and Marianna, the ambassadors of good will who come each summer from Ukraine to spread cheer while selling flowers and vegetables for Untiedt’s at area farmers markets. “Oh, the Firecracker Committee. They were very mad at you. We delivered last year’s award to Young Quinlan; office was empty,” said Marianna with a bit of a scolding tone to her voice. Oksana, ever the peacemaker, quickly added: “But then they became VERY worried. Online, like its editors, seemed to vanish.” It was none other than Farmers Market cohort Danny Tollefson who picked up the scent and contacted the Committee when Online resumed publishing and your editors launched their spiffy new website.
So we set the well-worn Red Owl grocery bag on the conference table, carefully removed the Arco coffee can, popped the lid, and unwrapped the missive from the Firecracker of the Year Committee; taking care, of course, to preserve the section of Tribune Sunday sports Peach it was, as always, wrapped in.
Let’s begin with a note of joy and relief. Many, many years ago a group of us were enjoying a Pimm’s cup or two in the gloom of the front bar at Charlie’s. There was a consensus that the sparkle of civic magic in this community was starting to dim. It was decided that our merry band would meet the first Tuesday after Memorial Day and recognize an individual, or group, that kept things lively in these Twin Towns. We first approached Roger Parkinson and Tim McGuire at the Star and Tribune. Roger regaled us with stories of valor, adventures of single-handedly chasing the entire Viet Cong into retreat well into China. Mr. McGuire explained in great detail that he was the smartest man in any room and if there was awarding to be done, he would do it. The late great David Carr isn’t the only one spurned by the Strib. We met Leary, Spano and Janecek at the St. Paul Hotel thinking Politics in Minnesota would be an ideal sponsor. Horse laughs times three and we felt like the asses. We had all but scraped the plan when Mrs. H., a railroad baroness from Lake Minnetonka way, mentioned Neerland & Oyaas Online, a sassy little self-aggrandizing but nonetheless informative newsletter which was delivered via fax twice a month. And so it began. Your Committee determined it best to stay in the shadows, even from you two.
We recognize that last year’s misfire was on your end but believe that the 2014 Firecracker should indeed get public recognition. We also installed a record three in the Lifetime Achievement section and want your readers to know why.
There are several deserving nominees for the 2014 award. In the interest of space we go right to the winner. Late 2012 into 2013 Minneapolis City Hall was awash in sixties rad. It was as if someone had infused orange sunshine into the organic peace coffee stash and the elected officials were throwing rainbows of ideas off the walls. One that started to stick was municipalization of the gas and electric utilities. This notion was gaining momentum fueled (pardon the pun) by a national movement, replacing Stop Wall Street as cause du jour. Locally the supporters had considerable substance. A coalition of sustainable energy organizations and individuals formed Minneapolis Energy Options (MEO) to push the public ownership envelope. Leadership was comprised of experienced advocates with impressive technical backgrounds if somewhat lacking in practical business acumen. They hired a community organizer, Dylan Kesti, fresh from his native Duluth to put some meat on the MEO bones. Sure enough, momentum started to get the local utilities’ attention. Operatives for the electric utility at first were eager to “squash ‘em like bugs.” Fortunately wise leadership at the top decided to let things play out. Down the street at CenterPoint Energy the powers that be (in this case the “power that be” is EVP Joe Vortherms) asked: “What is it exactly that MEO wants? Why don’t we go ask them?” So local government point person Al Swintek put a team of conservation experts, regulatory gurus and legal beagles together and reached out to MEO—through Mr. Kesti. Both groups learned a lot about each other and after several meetings agreed they had more in common than disagreement in terms of vision. Together CenterPoint and MEO crafted a memorandum of understanding clearly defining a path and levels of accountability. At some risk of getting his own rear kicked, Mr. Vortherms kicked the concept to the CenterPoint “C” suite in Houston and lo and behold a national model for utility and advocacy cooperation was hatched. None of this would have happened had Dylan Kesti not decided to put the bullhorn down and have genuine conversation. Congratulations to Dylan Kesti, the 2014 Firecracker of the Year.
Now to 2015. In keeping with the theme of your last few issues of Online, both nominees and the winner are headed to retirement.
First there is John Bergman, M.D. and the go-to dermatologist for most of Minneapolis across several generations. This wise and gentle doctor has scraped, burned and otherwise poked and prodded thousands since he opened his practice in 1974. Dr. Bergman has helped patients ward off some of the nasty cancers and been a rock of support for them and their families when the worst news arrives. Talk about old school; he genuinely believes HIPAA was an all-city fullback for Harding High School in the late fifties and just smiles when he thumbs through photo albums of patients’ before-and-after photos. An accomplished competitive swimmer, a legend at St. Paul Johnson High School, we wish him many years of laps and enjoyment.
What can this Committee say about Judith Carol Martinson Corrao that hasn’t been said? Judy finally decided to hang up the phone for good after more than twenty years as a mainstay of Hennepin County’s volunteer services. Corrao is a frenetic ball of energy with a golden soul that radiates with basic human kindness. Marshaling volunteers to help the most in need in her community was a perfect fit, to be sure. Judy’s family and close friends agree that her unrelenting drive has served her well across life’s journey. From Minneapolis City Council to local television talk show host, we know that anyone whose life Judy has touched would agree: she’s truly one of a kind. Watch out, World—she’s not done yet!!
So it is with Gay Jacobson who is leaving the Metro Cable Network, retiring after 28 years as Cable Channel Six’s chief cook and bottle washer. Jacobson was the nonprofit public affairs network’s first employee and oversaw its growth from a department of Northwest Community Television to a twenty-four-hour, seven-day-a-week cable exclusive service bringing everything from live government to polka and religion to more than one million viewers across the seven county metro area. Gay and her husband Rick, also an integral player at MCN/6, are taking their talents to South Beach, of Lake Mille Lacs, that is. The Committee wishes her well.
Finally, on to the 2015 Firecracker. Public service comes in many forms, from those like 2014 Firecracker Kesti to creative and passionate career civil servants like the late great city manager of Edina, Ken Rosland. One model of service we want to salute with this award is the path that takes one from successful private sector career to the public sector. Our Firecracker dabbled in the political arena during a brief misspent time in his youth, working as a staffer in the Minnesota Senate. It didn’t take Patrick Born long to wise up, and he left the shouting behind to begin an accomplished career with Evensen Dodge assisting governments and other institutions in obtaining infrastructure financing from the capital markets and providing related financial services. Born quickly gained a reputation as an impeccably honest and creative advisor (not always traits that are linked) to state and local governments as well as prominent educational institutions. Pat earned his keep on many complex deals, including sports facilities and waste-to-energy. He was never afraid of the easy payday either; can you say competitive bid? As the kids finished college, and with a nice run of paydays behind him, Mr. Born answered when then Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton called. For the next fifteen years serving as Minneapolis Chief Financial Officer, Born was the rudder keeping municipal finances in order and righting the ship when many other comparable cities crashed on the rocks. One of Mayor Rybak’s most impressive, albeit unsung, moves was to keep Patrick in place. He provided the roadmap for elected leaders—notably Rybak, Council Presidents Ostrow then Johnson, and Council Member now Mayor Hodges—and they deftly followed it. Minneapolis is a better place for all of their efforts. For the past few years Pat has been an important voice of fiscal reform at the Metropolitan Council, a daunting energy-sucking task at any point in a career. Thank goodness for the extended Born family. Pat is finally taking his bag of tricks and several bankers boxes of awards home to enjoy life. The Committee desperately hopes there are more budding private sector champions who will give back the way Mr. Born has. Congratulations, Patrick Born, 2015 Firecracker of the Year.