DDA Member's Non-Reappointment Questioned

Letter given to Duluth City Council expresses 'concern and 'dismay' over Downtown Development Authority member Shelly Howard's not being reappointed to board.


Some Downtown Duluth merchants, building owners and citizens are questioning the non-reappointment of long-time Duluth Downtown Development Authority member Shelly Howard. A letter expressing their “concern and dismay” was given to the Duluth City Council prior to its regular Monday (April 9) night meeting, but it was not brought up by council members during the meeting.

The council reappointed Rob Ponder and appointed Greg Lindquist, owner of the Best of Brews, and Maxine Garner, a former city council member, to four-year DDA terms expiring in April 2016. No mention was made by city officials nor was it listed on the agenda whom the two new members were replacing.

Besides Howard, DDA member Ed Gulesserian also was not reappointed. Gulesserian may have decided to retire from the board. Howard served as DDA secretary.

Councilman Billy Jones recused himself from voting because Garner is his aunt.

The terms of all seven DDA members expired on March 10. At its Feb. 13 meeting, the city council appointed Pure Taqueria partner Bill Weaver to fill the unexpired term of Dennis Taylor, but only until March 10, 2012, the same day the terms of the other six members ended.

According to the letter, Howard, who was appointed to serve on the Downtown Development Authority six years ago, received a letter from the Duluth City Council April 5 informing her that she was not being reappointed to the DDA. “She was given neither reason nor notice,” the letter stated. “Since this is the first time in anyone’s memory (maybe the first time ever) that such an action has been taken, and because Shelly Howard has demonstrated both a strong personal and professional commitment to the city, we, the undersigned, want to go on record as questioning this decision.”

Her husband David Cossette and Howard own a building on Main Street where they formerly operated Sensibly Chic, an antiques and collectibles shop. The space is currently for rent. Seven years ago, Howard invested in two homes downtown on West Lawrenceville Street. They live in one home and rent out the other.

Howard, who has lived in Duluth 25 years, was instrumental in attracting Eddie Owen to the Red Clay Theatre where he is booking live musical acts into the city-owned facility. She previously managed the theater for three years.

In addition, Howard initiated several public art projects to promote foot traffic downtown including the “Dog Days of Duluth,” a violin exhibit celebrating a visit by French violinmakers to Huthmaker Violins, and the “Duluth’s Taking Off” balloon display celebrating the opening of new businesses downtown.

The letter credited her with re-establishing the Duluth Historical Society after a period of dormancy and upfitting (at her own expense) Second Stage, now New Dawn Theater Company. She was also a founding member of the Duluth Fine Arts League, the letter stated.

As founder of the Community Volunteer League, she was involved in developing plans and obtaining donated materials for a courtyard on West Lawrenceville Street. The league, which functioned under the DDA, is apparently now being dissolved.

Work on the courtyard was recently halted by the city after problems developed with the project. Also, the city is demolishing several downtown buildings including a covered alleyway that will become a walkway and include the courtyard. The materials obtained by league volunteers are slated to be used on the walkway.

Downtown merchants listed on the letter opposing Howard’s non-reappointment to the DDA are Huthmaker Violins, Luv for Art, Steverino’s Pizza, fyi Duluth design studio, Chattahoochee Cabinets, Sassy Girl Design, Focal Point, and Tie Dye 4. Citizens included Beth Moody, former owner of the recently closed Duluth Art Gallery, and her husband Glen Faulkner; Sylvia Brock, Jack Brock, Jennifer Freeman, Dusty Graham, Livette DeSousa, and Lucille Walker.

A footnote at the bottom of the letter stated: “Please note that several downtown merchants agree with the sentiments in this document, but were not willing to sign it, citing ‘potential reprisals by the city’ if they were to do so. Others because of the [Easter] holiday weekend were not reachable.”

Freeman, a downtown building owner and mosaic artist, spoke out against the council's action and in support of Howard during the time reserved for citizens to speak near the end of last night’s city council meeting.

Originally, according to City Attorney Lee Thompson, DDA members served six-year staggered terms. When the state legislature changed the terms to four years in 1994, it failed to carry over the language staggering the terms. To return to staggered terms the city council could appoint three or four members to four-year terms. The remaining members could be allowed to serve for two years without being reappointed. Legally, they could continue to serve and then be reappointed to four-year terms after two years had passed.

DDA members Ken Odum, who has been serving as chairman; Kathryn Willis, Ron Osterloh, and Weaver will apparently continue to serve without being reappointed pending reappointment in two years to re-establish staggered terms. Ponder has been serving as vice chair.

The DDA is charged with revitalizing and redeveloping the city’s downtown (central business district) and creating employment opportunities. The DDA has the authority to finance projects to benefit downtown and issue bonds. It also reviews potential projects and makes recommendations to the Duluth City Council.

The Downtown Development Authority meets the third Tuesday of every month at Duluth City Hall at 6:30 p.m.

Dixie Huthmaker April 10, 2012 at 04:31 PM
What a sad day for Duluth when a business person is scared to say anything about Shelly Howard's removal for fear of 'potential reprisals' from the city. What a sad day for Duluth that Shelly Howard's immense passion and dedication to downtown was treated with such disrespect by our city.
Stacie Stamper April 10, 2012 at 08:59 PM
The merchants and community lost an incredible supporter who didn't just talk about doing things, she got things done. Hats off to you Shelly for all you did during your time on the DDA. I will always be greatful for your enthusiasm & commitment to Historic Duluth, the community and the merchant's best interests. If the merchants had a voice in who we wanted to represent us, you would be the person. Thanks for being brave enough to rock the boat. You may have been pushed off, but many supporters that have thrown you a life jacket from the other side of the Eastern Continental Divide.
Jennifer Freeman April 11, 2012 at 03:29 AM
The action of the Duluth City Council was unconscionable. After six years of service on the DDA, and thousands of hours of volunteer service to the Historic Downtown, Shelly Howard was not even given the courtesty of a reason for dismissal. One can only wonder what the purpose of the DDA and City Council is, if not to enhance the Historic District, and promote its growth and prosperity.
DavidE April 11, 2012 at 12:09 PM
Remember this at the next election. Billy Jones is the only one on City Council that should be saved at the next election. Replace the rest of them.
Jean H April 11, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Here! here!... Thanks Shelly for being a catalyst for change and for improvement. Your passion for Historic Duluth is contagious.
Cindy Sutt April 11, 2012 at 01:33 PM
The Sutts have person experience in this area and we know that this is not the first time someone has been asked to step down from DDA. We need to have faith in our city officials and know that we don't have the whole picture, nor do we have the ultimate responsibility for the longterm well-being of the City. After Randy's DDA appointment was terminated we continued to be involved in our community and still feel that we are a vital part of its future. I think we all need to encourage Shelly to continue her involvement and to remain active in building the future of our town. We do not gain anything by trying to second guess why the City made this decision, but rather we should continue to support the City as we move forward, and support Shelly in her future endevours. Cindy Sutt
Dr. J April 26, 2012 at 08:10 PM
I agree with everyone that Shelly was a great representative for the City of Duluth and gave great service to our city. However, I feel that not having staggering terms is completely crazy and there had to be a change to accommodate this. The only thing wrong with the article is the fact that it say's that Shelly was instrumental in bringing Eddie to Duluth. She did do a lot once the ball got rolling but I remember a web-cast she co-hosted with the Mayor over a year ago where the idea was brought up to move away from a theater setting for this venue and she was opposed to even discussing the idea.
Faye Edmundson April 27, 2012 at 02:20 AM
To set the record straight, if it were not for Shelly and her husband David Cossette going to a concert at Eddie's Attic in Decatur, telling Eddie Owen about Duluth, inviting him to come here, and arranging for a meeting with Chris McGahee, the city's economic development director, Eddie Owen Presents would probably not be at Red Clay. They have been acknowledged for initiating the contact. Their role in bringing Eddie to Duluth has been reported in Duluth Patch articles.
Bobbie April 27, 2012 at 10:22 PM
Thank you Faye for clearing that up. I have heard from a number of people that Shelly and her husband pulled Eddie into Duluth. Also, I agree it's crazy not to have staggering terms as well, but the question from the merchants was why Shelly? Not, why the change? You have members on that board that have been on there 20 years. Shelly was the only one I can name and that showed up on Main Street to ask how us merchants could be support by the DDA and showed appreciation for us that are down here 365 days.


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