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This is a monthly feature of our Columns & Commentary page, in which we either applaud a person, group or event for something positive that we feel is worthy of a little credit (Applause), and/or address something that gives us pause; something that we feel deserves to be addressed in a public forum like the newspaper (A Pause). We welcome rebuttals and feedback. Applause / A Pause expresses the collective opinions of the Perham Focus editorial staff.

APPLAUSE to the 2014 Perham Area Chamber award winners. Hall of Fame Award winner Lisa Peterson was recognized for her outstanding work with the local Relay for Life, Leadership Award winners Doug and Sue Huebsch were honored for their vast array of community and business involvements, and Volunteer of the Year Cindy Olson earned her title for her years of dedication to Community Outreach, a ministry she started that provides essential items to area families in need. Kudos to these four award winners, and also to the many people in Perham who help make a positive difference in the community.

A PAUSE to the hoopla over Perham High School’s plan to screen students for alcohol at this year’s prom.

Believing that the school planned to give every student a Breathalyzer before allowing them into the event, the ACLU sent out letters to school leaders and the Perham police department, criticizing them for a plan it said was “likely unconstitutional.” The ACLU also sent out a press release stating the same to various media outlets – spurring a rash of reactions around the region.

Rather than getting in touch with someone from the school or police department to get the whole story first, the ACLU instead went straight to the public with its criticisms, which turned out to be based on innacurate information, as Breathalyzers were never part of the plan. Officers were going to conduct preliminary tests, checking the air around students for traces of alcohol. Kids were never going to have to blow into a machine.

In addition, as a few journalists and bloggers later pointed out, plenty of other school districts conduct preliminary breath tests or even full-blown Breathalyzers before allowing students into social functions. So why was Perham singled out of the bunch?

The school ended up dropping its plan, which was created with student safety in mind, with the help of students. Instead, prom attendees were only tested if they gave officers ‘reasonable suspicion.’

In its press release, the ACLU stated that breath tests “imply that students are guilty until proven innocent instead of innocent until proven guilty.” That notion is worthy of discussion. But the ACLU didn’t need to make a mountain out of a molehill to get that discussion going.

APPLAUSE to Richard McCrady of Wings Flight Training for planning an air show in Perham this summer. At least one longtime resident has said there hasn’t been such a show in Perham for about 30 years. We’re glad it’s coming back. The show will be a draw for local residents and visitors alike, bringing people into town and entertaining those of us who are already here.

APPLAUSE to Perham for its remarkable growth over the past decade. As was recapped at an annual meeting of the Perham Economic Development Authority in April, the city has seen more than $140 million in new developments since 2004, and is showing no signs of slowing down. Last year, in fact, was a record year for the city, with nearly $45 billion in building permits issued – more than the previous four years combined. The growth started at the business and industrial level and has brought a need for additional housing and services.

The key to the community’s continued success, Perham leaders say, will be people. Recruiting and retaining workers will be the number one challenge facing employers in coming years – and employers are facing it head-on, rolling up their sleeves and brainstorming ways to get new people to town, and to get them to stay here. We look forward to watching and reporting on the continued growth of the community, well into the future.

A PAUSE to railroad traffic in Perham. As was pointed out in a story by MPR News and reprinted in the April 10 Perham Focus, the 10 or so oil trains that pass through town every day from the Bakken pose an “unacceptable public risk.”

If a train derailment were to occur in town (trains have derailed four times in Perham since 1992), the city’s Main Street businesses and city offices, which lie just feet from the tracks, would be in eminent danger. The trains are also risky from a traffic standpoint, as drivers and pedestrians sometimes try to beat trains at crossings, and not always with success.

There are currently 92,000 tank cars approved for hauling hazardous flammable liquids. If they were all required to meet the latest Department of Transportation safety standards, 78,000 of those would immediately become obsolete. Though train derailments are numbering fewer and fewer in recent years, and BNSF has just ordered 5,000 of the new, safer tank cars, it will be years before the entire existing tanker fleet is replaced. In the meantime, Perham and other communities along the railroad line might have to start thinking more seriously about safety improvements at railroad crossings. And cross their fingers that every train stays on the track.