Retiring Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson deserves commendation for her long service as a leader and an apology from the Star Tribune for the Dec. 27 editorial "Council pay hike needlessly sneaky." Johnson and the other council members were simply being practical. Anyone who reads this otherwise good newspaper knows that pay for public officials is a contentious subject. Somehow, proud Minnesotans don't think elected officials should be paid anywhere near what the private sector pays for CEOs and boards of directors running a company with a $1.5 billion annual budget. And somehow, when we extol our virtues as a city compared with Portland and Seattle, we don't mention that they pay their council members $20,000 a year more than we do.

We have been lucky so far because we have a tradition of getting generally competent and honest public officials on the cheap. But as readers of this newspaper may also have noticed recently, we are neglecting civics education in our public schools. This means we are raising a generation of children who know little about government and how it works. Respect for government and what it does is declining. And with the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission we are seeing massive amounts of money being poured into campaigns, now including local campaigns. Special interest groups with a narrow agenda and money-raising ability can select, train and finance candidates who will fight for their agenda.

Any new mayor and council members who made raising their salaries an early priority would know it would be political suicide, as well as time-consuming. Those on the current council were political realists, exercising leadership, which is what we taxpayers who believe government is necessary pay them to do. Transparency may be an ideal, but it is not always fair or practical. The council broke no laws or rules. It simply exercised leadership for the good of the city.

Arvonne Fraser, Minneapolis

Base concealed-carry reciprocity on data (which looks favorable)

The Dec. 26 article "Permit push for guns is divisive" says that "law enforcement leaders" are concerned that a proposal to make any state's permits for carrying concealed guns applicable in all other states "could harm public safety." But later the article says that 24 state attorneys general wrote to Congress supporting the bill while only 17 wrote against the bill. It sounds to me like at least some law enforcement leaders support the bill.

The article didn't provide data as to whether concealed-carry permit holders commit crimes at a higher rate than other citizens. According to a report by John R. Lott Jr. of the Crime Prevention Research Center, permit holders not only commit fewer crimes than the general population but also commit fewer crimes than police officers. The general population commits 3,813 crimes per 100,000 people per year. Policemen committed 103 crimes per 100,000 officers per year. Permit holders in Texas and Florida committed crimes at one-sixth the rate of policemen. Of course, the crime rates of permit holders vary from state to state. There may be some states where permit holders commit crimes at a higher rate than in Texas and Florida. But even if they commit crimes at seven times the rate of Texas and Florida, the rate would be comparable to that of policemen and much lower than that of the general population.

The decision about whether to allow concealed-carry permits to apply in all states should be made based on data. And it is the responsibility of the Star Tribune and other newspapers to supply that data. The article didn't provide the necessary data to make the decision and instead relied mostly on quotes from opponents of the bill.

James Brandt, New Brighton

Don't limit yourself to classics

Reading the Dec. 23 commentary "The 40 greatest books we all should read," I recalled being at a local bookstore doing a signing for a book I had written. A man approached, and we had a brief exchange. Then he put a self-satisfied smile on his face and said he only reads the classics and promptly walked away. I didn't say anything, but thought to myself that he must let other people decide what he will read.

Making a list of the greatest books, and teaching only those books, indicates the attitude that anything worth reading has already been written and we shouldn't bother with whatever is being written today or will be in the future. In reality, those books did not start out as influential classics. They became that way because authors were willing to write new works and, when they first came out, readers were willing to pay attention to books that did not have any durability or influence.

While attention should be given to the classics, people should also be taught to look to contemporary and little-known writing and decide for themselves what to read.

Bill Cutler, Oak Park Heights

Fellowship without judgment — that's the spirit we need

Driving down to the Mankato area the day after Christmas, I passed a little apple orchard painted neon yellow. A sign at the orchard said "Merry Christmas" on one side and "Season's Greetings" on the other — subtly skewering a political divide small businesses must straddle not just at this time of year but all year long these days.

I reflected on the sign as I continued on my way to New Creation Church, a large, evangelical congregation that for the last two years has opened its doors to about 400 people in the Native American and European-American communities who come together to heal the old self-inflicted wounds created when racial hatred, fear and the breakdown of the U.S. government during the Civil War led to starvation, massacre and finally the largest mass hanging in our nation's history.

Members of New Creation welcomed me and my humanist/agnostic/atheist companions into their kitchen and spiritual home without judgment and stood beside us in common cause and purpose as we fed the 400 folks bent on sharing bread and fellowship. Here's hoping that love can overcome hate, that kindness can heal and that even highway signs can eventually make peace with themselves.

David Leussler, Minneapolis