Editorial: Olson deserves vote in Ward 4 but with a point

Published 10:37 am Friday, October 24, 2014

Reid Olson is unopposed in seeking a third term as the Ward 4 councilor on the Albert Lea City Council. Voters can trust they are casting a ballot for a trustworthy candidate, and we feel strong in endorsing Olson.

However, we want our elected officials to learn and grow in the position. Something Olson did recently disappointed us. He forgot that public officials need to share their views. They need to be, well, public.

Olson is the council’s liaison to the Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. The Tribune did a story on the city manager’s plan to reorganize city government, which called for breaking up the Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Department and placing the parks side under the Public Works Department and the recreation side under the supervision of the assistant city manager.

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Indeed this is a crucial issue to people of Albert Lea and surely the liaison to the department at the center of the issue would have keen insight for the voting public. What was Olson’s comment?

“No comment.”

By not commenting, Olson was skirting his duty as an elected official. The public deserves to know his stance before he takes a vote so they can sway him. Imagine if U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, when asked about his stance on problems in the VA hospitals, responded by saying no comment. It would be a field day in Washington. Critics would call him “aloof.”

By no means is Olson aloof. He is a down-to-earth-guy who probably didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but local decisions are too important to be unresponsive to the public interest because of hurt feelings. We are all adults, right?

By speaking with the Tribune about the views, they are speaking through the Tribune to the constituents who put them into their positions in the first place. The public deserves to know what its taxpayer-funded government entities are doing and what the leaders who make decisions intend to do. It’s all Civics 101. Let’s hope Olson learns and grows.

Still, we endorse Olson because we know he is an advocate for the parks. He pushes for better services for youth programs. He is a father to three children, ages 10, 8 and 6, and, for the sake of providing a variety of views, it is good to have a councilor with children still living in the house.

His experience with the city budget and his visibility through the community — it’s easy to run into Olson here and there — make him suitable for a third term.

Perhaps Olson’s lesson is a lesson for all public officials. Let’s be public about community decisions.