by Sarah Squires
From: Steve Schild
Brian Voerding should take his own advice. His December 21 Daily News editorial criticizing Winona State University’s (WSU) withdrawal of its Lake Park baseball field proposal claims to value respectful discussion, but his argument is nothing but name-calling and manufactured “facts.”
What’s even worse is that such mean-spirited, my-way-or-the-highway argumentation comes from an institution — a community’s daily newspaper — that should encourage rather than attack debate. Sadly, Voerding’s editorial is exactly what we saw earlier on the ballpark issue from Winona Post Publisher Patrick Marek and former WSU Vice President Gary Evans. Marek, whom I have praised for his newspaper’s long-form coverage of the frac-sand issue, ridiculed as air-headed hippies anyone who wants Lake Park to remain unfenced and green. Evans’ rhetorical “What am I missing?” made clear he could see no legitimate question about the proposal.
As an educational institution, Winona State should be embarrassed to be associated with that kind of thinking. The fact is that any public policy that restricts public use of public land demands and deserves great scrutiny. Voerding should know that.
He should know this, too:
At a May 21 forum about the ballpark proposal, I said it seemed that there was very little public use of the existing WSU softball field in Lake Park. Giving WSU primary use of Bambenek Field — a name WSU refuses to use except when it wants more parkland — effectively locked the public out, I argued, and the same thing could happen if the baseball field went in. Not true, scoffed the purple-clad crowd.
But in response to a request I made, Chad Ubl, the city’s community services director, did something Voerding didn’t. Ubl, who throughout this debate has shown himself to be an exemplary public servant, examined usage records for the softball field. “It was very eye-opening,” Ubl told me; there’s been “very little public use” of the softball field since WSU got dibs on it, “and that can’t happen anymore.” I hope the city makes sure it doesn’t.
A couple of other things:
• On December 16, I asked Winona Mayor Mark Peterson if the city had explored any other way to fund the softball-field improvements. He said he didn’t know of any. I cannot think of a weaker answer. It is an abdication of responsibility for the City Council to consider limiting public use of something as rare and precious as park space without first looking for alternate funding mechanisms. The city wouldn’t buy a fire truck with only one bid; it wouldn’t fill a position for which there was only one applicant. Why, then, would it consider giving away use of parkland without looking into other funding options?
• It is nonsense for Voerding to write that WSU would build the baseball field “at their expense” and that “otherwise taxpayer-funded money” would have to be used. WSU’s money is our money, taxpayer money. Period. Under the WSU proposal, we would have been paying to lock ourselves out of our own parkland for about three months of the year. And we would have been locking ourselves in to paying at least part of considerable expense of replacing the artificial turf when it needed replacing.
• Finally, Voerding’s language and his “facts”: What does he mean there’s “no real opposition” to the plan, or that only “a tiny vocal group” of “complainers” dislike the idea? What’s the basis for his claim that only about two dozen people oppose the idea? And what’s the source of his certainty about the “silent majority?” Think about where you’ve heard that one before.
Voerding concludes that it’s “terrifying” to be “stuck with the complainers getting their way.” I find far it more terrifying that citizens need to fear public ridicule for participating in a public policy debate in the community where they live. Voerding’s tactics make that fear very real.