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Public servant or activist? (09/13/2006)
By Frances Edstrom

The Winona County Commissioners have made it clear on a couple of different occasions, most recently Tuesday, that they wish to arrange with the city of Winona to allow the Winona County Historical Society (WCHS) to expand its museum and archive space on Johnson Street in downtown Winona.

But the Winona County Attorney, Chuck MacLean, hasn't gotten the message. He's issued yet another letter voicing his objection to trading 24 parking spaces on Johnson Street to the Winona Port Authority for an equal number on Main Street to accommodate Winona County employee parking. The Johnson Street land would then be given by the Port to the Historical Society for its planned $3 million expansion, to the obvious benefit of all Winona County residents.

State statutes give county governments the opportunity to be quite generous with their county historical societies, because it is widely recognized that the preservation of the records that county governments have accumulated during our state's history is very important, and that this task falls within the purview of county historical societies.

The County Attorney attempts to pit the rest of Winona County against the city of Winona by asserting that an expanded County Historical Society would only benefit the residents of the city. A trip to the WCHS archives and museum would easily disabuse any visitor of this nonsense.

The history of the entire county is archived and appears in educational displays. Work of the museum educators, archivists, publishers and collections specialists are brought to and available to all, not just those who live within the Winona city limits. That is why it is called the Winona County Historical Society.

But that is not a secret.

The County Attorney claims that the WCHS is not accessible to all county residents because there is an entry fee to the museum properties. Must we remind him of the many fees, some quite high and in addition to our taxes, charged to county residents for various county services, including many court services?

This is the same Winona County Attorney who also fought vigorously against the restoration of our Winona County Courthouse when the unfortunate sprinkler system malfunction gave him the opportunity to call for a brand new county "campus" and the demolition of the courthouse, universally recognized and nationally known as an irreplaceable architectural treasure dating to the very beginnings of our county's settlement and written history.

County Attorneys are charged by state statute to, in general, "give opinions and advice, upon the request of the county board or any county officer." He has given his opinion once, the county board has reiterated its position of wanting to negotiate a mutually beneficial outcome, but MacLean persists in his obstruction and clings to his weak and false arguments. It is hard to fathom what motivates his ongoing fight against the maintenance and archiving of our history, but it gives him the appearance more of an activist than a public servant, veering way out of the realm of his responsibilities. 


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