It seemed like such a good idea at the time: August 26, last Wednesday, would be "No New Cavities for Katy Reckdahl Day" in the city of Minneapolis. A proclamation celebrating a decade of regular dental checkups for this reporter had been prepared and submitted for mayor Sharon Sayles Belton's signature; mayoral receptionist Anita Charwood promised to put it on Sayles Belton's desk forthwith.
Sadly, however, the mayor was in no mood to reward flossing and brushing. She "put a note on [the proposed proclamation] saying it has no value," reports Charwood. The comment stung, considering that Sayles Belton rarely rejects a proclamation: So far this year, Charwood says, fewer than a dozen of some 175 requests have been turned down. Losers included a National Day of Prayer and a request from the Hubbard Dianetics Foundation (both denied as "too religious.")
Proclamations on which the mayor bestowed her approval, by contrast, were signed, printed on parchment paper, beribboned, sealed with gold foil, and slid into an official royal blue folder. The entire process, including staff time, costs about $10 per proclamation. The luxuriant folder has been handed out with more frequency in recent years, says Charwood, who has served as proclamation gatekeeper since the days of mayor Don Fraser. In 1993, his last year in office, Fraser declared roughly half as many special days and weeks per year as Sayles Belton.
Sayles Belton's community dance card is also more busy than Fraser's was, says mayoral spokesperson Amy Phenix. "This mayor is, by and large, more in demand than her predecessor. As a woman and an African American, she's a role model for many groups, and we can't meet the scheduling demands. So sometimes, in lieu of the mayor's attendance at an event, the group asks for something else, such as a proclamation." Recently, the mayor bestowed the Smashing Pumpkins with both honors: she visited the band backstage and gave the nod to a heavily publicized proclamation declaring July 17 to be Smashing Pumpkins and Rock 100.3 Day.
But don't suspect alt-rock devotee Jim Niland of having a hand in that one: "I'm not a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan," the 6th Ward City Council member confides. Niland does hold the city record for submitting proclamations about bands: Five of his personal favorites have been so honored, most on days that coincided with their concerts at First Avenue or the 400 Bar. Low Day fell on May 24, 1997, followed closely by Yo La Tengo Day. "When [Yo La] came to town, I thought, 'Oh, this will be cool,'" Niland reminisces. "And their record label really got a kick out of it. They put a news release out on it, and I got calls from some zines." Niland also has submitted proclamations for Southern Culture on the Skids (July 1, 1997) and Link Wray (May 25, 1998). And last month, Niland and Sayles Belton pulled out all the stops to grant the first seven-day honor given to a band: Legendary Jim Ruiz Group Week, in honor of the band's new CD. Despite recent tensions around City Hall, Niland promises that he and the mayor--whose musical tastes run toward Tracy Chapman and The Artist--will continue to put their differences aside "when a worthy-enough band comes through town."
But will Minneapolis citizens know when that occurs? Not unless they keep up with their zines. The only official record of city proclamations is a photocopy of each award, kept in a dictionary-size file in Charwood's office. The mayor's assistant says the city is looking into making the information more public, perhaps through its Web site or the public-service cable channel 34.
A look through the folder reveals a pastiche of apple-pie slogans touting the fight against various diseases and societal ills (Women's Health: Take Time to Care Week; Don't Be Blindsided! Glaucoma Awareness Day). A number of proclamations hail the work of organizations holding their conventions and events in Minneapolis (Canadian Studies Week, for the 1997 gathering of the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States). Mixed in are American standards (Arbor Day, Martin Luther King Day) and the occasional intragovernmental pat on the back (Army Corps of Engineers Day, Minneapolis Post Office Appreciation Day).
The vast majority of proclamations, however, have been mayoral salutes to the citizenry. Honors have gone to family reunions (Baker-Hatten Family Reunion Days), school choirs (Ramsey International Fine Arts Choir's Day of Spreading the Message), fallen soldiers (Ensign Walter Michael Willis Day, honoring the Minneapolis native shot in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), retiring policemen (Captain Aloysiu Pufahl Day, for 42 years of service), athletes (Tracy Henderson Day, for the Henry High School graduate whose basketball jersey was retired this spring), and community volunteers (Sheldon "Corky" Levin Day, for the recipient of the 1998 Jewish Community Center of Greater Minneapolis Lifetime Achievement Award).
A handful of awards reflect stands on issues: the annual proclamations in honor of Gay Pride Days, for example, and a recent request by All God's Children Metropolitan Community Church (Say No to Hate Day) on occasion of the Rev. Fred Phelps's planned antigay protest. By contrast, St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman has for years made headlines by refusing to sign his city's Gay Pride Days proclamation, even while wielding his signature pen twice as often as Sayles Belton. According to Coleman spokesperson Kit Borgman, the mayor issues a proclamation just about every day, most recently LEGO Day (September 10) and Winter & Associates Inc. Day (August 20).
In St. Paul, city staffers write most proclamations, but in Minneapolis, the text citizens submit is rarely changed--a policy that makes the proclamations folder a veritable creative-writing showcase. Niland reveals his inner rock critic with clauses like "Whereas Low is Duluth's answer to the Velvet Underground with a little Joy Division and Flying Saucer Attack mixed in." The Farm Animal Reform Movement's proclamation for Great American Meatout Day, signed for March 20 two years running, includes the deadpan clause "Whereas, vegetarianism is 'in' with teens."
So would a reporter with a severe case of sour grapes be wrong in suspecting that the coveted blue folder could become a commercial pawn, an item in a PR firm's year-end list of client accomplishments? Exhibit A: September 28 this year will be Coupon Clip-a-thon Day, thanks to New York-based BSMG Marketing/Communications. Gail Heimann, a principal at BSMG, explains that the request was made on behalf of a client, the Free-Standing Insert Council, "who make the color coupons that fall out of your Sunday newspaper."
"Frankly, there are a lot of coupon advocates," Heimann avers, adding that the proclamation "gives credit to the savviness of the coupon-using shopper." She reassuringly notes that the client plans to frame and display the parchment in a prominent spot at its Detroit headquarters. "There's a delight in being accepted," she explains, "particularly by a big city like Minneapolis. It makes our corporate clients feel good, adds value to what we do in the city, and we're happy to have the tacit support of the local government."