Minnesota cities and counties operate with 9,000, or about 8 percent, fewer employees than they did a decade ago, when the state's population was 400,000 smaller.
So noted a fine report by the Star Tribune's Katie Humphrey on July 1 that detailed what a decade of money woes has wrought for the state's local governments. The decline in city and county workforces is striking.
I was also struck by a line attributed to Tim Flaherty, executive director of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Of local elected officials, he said: "A lot of them don't like to talk about it because they don't have a choice."
I've encountered that reticence too. But I don't think it stems from local pols' sense that they have few or no options. Rather, I've found that mayors, city council members and county commissioners are keenly aware that their locales compete with other places for economic development and tourism.
Calling attention to declining services might deter investors and visitors and put off voters at election time. they fear. So they put on a serene face and say that their city or county still offers the wonderful quality of life it always did.
In fact, the legislators who repeatedly cut state aid to cities in the past decade may have been banking on local officials to respond in just that way.
Some local politicians can say "all's well" with a straight face. They may be in growing areas. Or they may be the ones who've found ways to keep services adequate while cutting payrolls, often by employing new technology to improve productivity or embarking on joint ventures with other jurisdictions.
But particularly in state aid-dependent regional centers, those coping mechanisms haven't been enough. Shorter library hours, weedier parks, bumpier streets and longer police response times have become the rule rather than the exception.
Citizens can see some of those things for themselves. Other cuts -- to firefighting readiness or stormwater infrastructure, for example -- are less visible until a crisis hits.
It's hard for citizens to know what's at risk, and to contribute to a remedy, when their elected officials are loath to tell them. Hard times call for leaders who tell people what they need to know, not what they want to hear.