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COLUMN: Townships reach beyond boundaries to support worthy institutions

It's always uplifting when townsfolk and the city slickers have a good working relationship.

I'm referring to some of the positive action I observed last week, at the Edna Township annual meeting.

Okay...Perham and New York Mills are hardly comprised of a bunch of fast-talking city slickers-and township leaders and residents are certainly not rural bumpkins. But I have witnessed tension, unrest and outright hostility between townships and small cities in other communities.

In one small city, (I won't identify it here), I was in the audience for shouting matches between city and township officials. Friends and neighbors became enemies-very possibly for a lifetime. There were even a number of reports that township residents threatened violence against city officials.

Annexation was the primary issue in the above cases, but it really was much more pervasive and ingrained than that one issue. Many township residents were simply "anti-city."

It was really sad, because it was (and is) a pleasant small city-with a struggling Main Street, just like other communities. Because of all the friction, township residents started boycotting the city-dealing yet another blow to merchants who were already strained.

The city's swimming beach required lifeguards on duty, which is a fairly expensive proposition when you consider a full summer of wages. The city reached out to the townships for contributions-the logic being that township kids enjoyed the swimming hole just as much as the city kids. I don't believe a single township voted to donate even 50 or 100 bucks, which is really all the city wanted to help subsidize the water safety expense.

Response from the townships was similar on other requests, too, ranging from the local public library to the fairgrounds.

Since moving to East Otter Tail, I've witnessed a much more positive relationship between most of the townships and the neighboring small cities.

This was reflected at the Edna meeting last week.

The townsfolk voted approval of more than $2,000 in donations to organizations that, on the surface, would appear to only benefit Perham:

-East Otter Tail County Agricultural Society, $750

-East Otter Tail County Historical Society (the Pioneer Village), $200

-History Museum of East Otter Tail County (which also operates the Veterans Museum), $250

-Perham Area Community Center (recognizing the PACC's youth sports and other programs provide benefits beyond Perham city limits), $200

- Perham Public Library, $750

On the library donation, a supporter noted that Edna Township boasts more Perham library patrons than any other township.

"We're the most literate township in the county," laughed one of the township residents at the annual meeting.

Acting as moderator for the Edna gathering was Don Garber, who made this observation:

"I think it is great that we support institutions in our area...we're a township that isn't just looking inward at ourselves," said Garber.

I couldn't agree more.

Sure, there's periodic tension between the city of Perham and Perham Township (over annexation, of course). But from what I've observed, the relationship is civil and for the most part, I believe township residents accept that a growing city like Perham has little choice but to expand its boundaries, its infrastructure and its tax base.

I can't speak to every township in East Otter Tail, but, by and large, townsfolk appear to have been generous to their city neighbors. The New York Mills Regional Cultural Center has benefited from numerous township donations-and frankly guys, the Cultural Center could use more...if you got it.

Same goes for the history, culture and arts institutions in the Perham area.

Final note on the Edna Township meeting:

As the 100 or so township residents reviewed the donation list, it was looking grim for the Ag Society, which organizes the East Otter Tail Fair. An initial motion to donate to the local fair died for lack of a second.

I was privately disappointed.

As the proceedings continued, however, a township resident piped up with a new motion to give to the fair. This time, it passed unanimously-nearly one hundred votes to zero.


I can't think of a more appropriate gesture, especially with 2010 being the "Centennial Celebration" of the East Otter Tail County Fair.

There is immense value in reaching beyond your immediate borders-and it is a way of life in East Otter Tail. Personally, I'd like to think of it as the "American Way."

Imagine if citizens all across our 50 states felt the same way?