Sitting in the St. Louis County Board meeting Tuesday in Hibbing, I couldn’t believe my luck.
After a WDIO-TV reporter and cameraman left, Commissioner Keith Nelson, who was chairing the finance and budget committee meeting, perked up.
Discussion about selling the old jail in Duluth was underway, and Nelson said he had been waiting for the press to leave to speak his mind. Filling in for another reporter, I had gone unnoticed.
Nelson became candid, his tone confidential.
Folks, we’re facing millions in cuts and we’re still dealing with this jail, said Nelson who lives in Virginia.
"The county’s plans to raze the old jail — long considered by county officials as a white elephant — had been successfully blocked by preservationists and the city of Duluth because the jail is part of a historic district designated a local landmark.
"Small groups tend to make a great deal of noise," Nelson said, apparently referring to preservationists. "It becomes news."
The city, which denied the county a demolition permit, told the county to first try harder to find a buyer.
"I’m not criticizing your city," Nelson said of Duluth, but went on to say the city had cost the county money.
"Since our first discussions of demolition, we have incurred in excess of $120,000, no $200,000 as a result of rules imposed on us," Nelson said.
The county can’t continue to spend money on the old jail, he said.
"We are 51 days from agreement," he said, encouraging the board to approve the sale. "We’re at a juncture. We have to look at this positively."
Of the sale agreement, he said bluntly: "It’s not a great deal."
The sale, which goes to a likely board vote next week, would cost the county nearly as much as the $54,000 selling price, but demolition was estimated to now cost $300,000.
When he finished talking, I thought: "That’s not so bad." Surely, the media could have heard that.