Off Beat

Flush Freely

BECAUSE ANYTHING PERTAINING to potties is always eye-catching, a little blurb in the May 23 issue of the Minnesota Women's Consortium Legislative Reporter recently got Off Beat's attention: "Though not much was accomplished this legislative session," the newsletter reports, lawmakers "did permanently ban pay toilets in Minnesota." Just why, you ask, is the Women's Consortium concerning itself with pay toilets? And since when did anyone have to pay to pee anyway? After speaking with women's rights activist Kay Taylor, who launched the crusade against pay toilets, Off Beat learned what was really going on behind those locked stall doors. Before 1975, pay toilets were standard--at least for women. While men typically whizzed for free, Taylor says, most public spaces had one free women's toilet, flanked by stalls that could be entered only after a dime was deposited in a box outside the door. In 1975 Taylor took the matter up with the state's Department of Human Rights, which in turn raised the issue with the Metropolitan Airport Commission, which had allowed coin-op johns to virtually take over the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Eventually John Milton and Jim Pehler, two sympathetic state lawmakers who were tired of hearing that their coin-poor wives had sent their kids crawling under stall walls to open the doors, authored a bill outlawing pay toilets. Lobbyists from Nik-O-Lok, the manufacturer of the pay boxes, rallied in self-defense. (A single box raked in up to $400 a month, according to Taylor.) Nik-O-Lok claimed that women's toilets were dirtier, Taylor explains, and therefore more costly to maintain. Lawmakers eventually decided that all public facilities must keep at least half their toilets, women's or men's, free of charge. During the just-concluded legislative session, the issue popped back up during an effort to vote a number of obsolete laws off the books. Minnesota may not have a budget, but pay toilets have finally been banned completely.

It's the Economy, Stupid

IT SEEMS LIKE it was just the other week that Off Beat was talking to Star Tribune Publisher John Schueler, asking him why ad sales at the Strib were down more sharply than at other newspapers in the McClatchy Co. chain ("Stribbed Down," Off Beat, April 25, 2001). Schueler told us that the Strib was feeling more pain because it had more employment advertising than other papers, an ad category that's been battered by the slowing economy. What an irony, then, that Schueler himself now will be looking through the help wanted section. On May 23 Schueler announced his resignation, effective immediately; an accompanying press release offered only that the industry veteran resigned for "personal reasons." Newsroom scuttlebutt at the Strib suggests that Schueler, who'd held the job for three years, was pushed out over the lagging performance of the paper. (McClatchy representatives denied the suggestions, and Star Tribune spokesman Frank Parisi shot down Off Beat's request for an interview with the departing publisher.) Still, Off Beat couldn't help but notice that five other ranking Strib executives have left since March 2000, including Tom Mohr, former senior VP for marketing and sales, and Fred Hundt, former VP of advertising. Parisi insists that none of the departures were related to the company's books: "None of those were expressly identified as a performance problem." Faithful Off Beat readers will recall that Schueler was purported to have been unhappy with the way his financial dicta were communicated to the troops. A 1999 memo from editor Tim McGuire to editorial staffers, for example, decreed that there would be "no more cookies" at newsroom meetings ("That's the Way the Strib Crumbles," Off Beat, August 25, 1999).


The only thing that arouses Off Beat's inner Minnesotan more than weather hysteria is mosquito mania. That's why we were thrilled with "Mosquito Misery," a front-page story in last Thursday's Star Tribune that claimed the metro area is "swarming with the hungry pests." Turning to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, however, we were perplexed to read in its front-page skeeter story that recent weather had indeed been dreary, but "at least there are no mosquitoes." No wonder Minnesotans suffer from a collective identity crisis. Which is it? "They're both right," insists Jim Stark, the spokesman for the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District who found himself quoted in both stories. "We are seeing unprecedented mosquitoes, especially in Anoka [County]. But when it's cold, the mosquitoes kinda hunker down and lurk. Rest assured, the mosquitoes are out there."