HIBBING — The end of 2018 ushered in the conclusion of a historic career for Pat Garrity, who proudly served the City of Hibbing as the clerk and treasurer for more than 36 years.
Garrity has a long history of ruffling feathers and there’s no clear cut answer in how he will be remembered in the decades to come. However, most of his colleagues say that whenever he walked into a room wearing his iconic blue sweater and red tie, they knew he meant business.
This week, Garrity sat down for a free-wheeling interview in which he reflected on some the more memorable points of his political career.
Following in his family’s footsteps
Born into a family of nine children, Garrity grew up in City Hall, with his mother working as the city’s elected treasurer. By age 20, he was attending city council meetings on a regular basis and laboring his way through a math and accounting degree as an ambulance attendant.
The first time Garrity ran for city clerk, he was the budding age of 24 and no one was more surprised than him when he won. As he took office in 1975 and began to acclimate to the hefty position, the pressure to do well and uphold the family name was never far from his mind. Being in charge of the city’s election records and finances that ranged somewhere between $6-8 million meant all eyes were on him.
“I’m really under scrutiny because I’m ‘the kid,’” Garrity recalled.
Garrity eventually out grew the nickname and went on to play substantial roles in many projects. For example, he helped the city arrange funding for the Hibbing Hospital property.
“I’m way out of my league,” he said in recollection. “The donors were raising $2 million, but I did my job. That was a big community project with a lot of cooperating. I was a little pawn dealing with a lot of big shots.”
Equality in taxation
The next challenge arrived in 1977. Garrity recounted how mining companies were threatening to leave the region over a proposed increase on taconite tax.
When a hearing was scheduled in the Twin Cities, busloads of locals took off to stand with the mines in their opposition of the tax. But Garrity had different plans and he ended up being the only elected Iron Range official to buck the crowds and testify in favor of the tax.
For Garrity, it was about the need for equality in taxation. He also felt the tax would turn around and bolster the area. It was a bold move that earned him some large enemies, but he insisted he wasn’t thinking of them; he was fighting for the citizens who elected him.
“I’m proud of that,” he said. “That was for Hibbing’s benefit.”
“You stole Stuntz”
At that time, Hibbing was still considered a village, and officials were eyeing the consolidation of Hibbing and the town of Stuntz. Garrity negotiated on behalf of Hibbing, and in January 1980, Stuntz was annexed, making Hibbing a city of 186 square miles.
“People still come up to me and say ‘My grandma said you stole Stuntz,’” Garrity chuckled.
Fighting for Hibbing
Thinking over his career, Garrity shared that the next big shake-up arrived when massive layoffs swept the range as mining companies shut down. Despite the low note in history, Garrity can remember the high points, like all the grants he obtained to help boon Hibbing’s economy. That included monetary infusions into the industrial park in North Hibbing and Vic Power Park.
Next came the fight to save the Androy Hotel in downtown. The year was 1991 and though Garrity was temporarily off the council, he couldn’t sit idly by and let the historic building get torn down. He believed the structure had potential to be used as housing.
After battling it out in the courts alongside fellow board members on the Hibbing Androy Project Committee, the Androy was saved and today provides more than 40 units of senior housing.
But Garrity’s role wasn’t over yet. He shared that in the mid-1990s, after three councilors were removed from office following a legal battle involving illegal “secret meetings,” he was called in to help get the city’s finances back in order. Soon, Garrity found himself running for office once more and was re-elected.
“It was like trying to restore the integrity of the finances of the city,” he recounted. “It was really in bad shape.”
“I left Hibbing in good financial condition”
Over the years, Garrity was never been afraid to throw his hat in the ring for what he believed was right, even when it risked making him unpopular.
Whether it was pushing to give old buildings new life, improving Carey Lake, advocating for a police liaison and chemical health coordinator in the high school, getting air conditioning in the library, helping seniors, upgrading roads, or using creative methods to help businesses launch or expand, he found fulfillment using his know-how to better the situation of others. Admittedly, he’ll miss being on the ground level of Hibbing’s economic development front.
“If there’s anything anyone can say about me of all the years I’ve been here, I left Hibbing in good financial condition,” he said, pointing to the city’s recent AA bond rating and audit track record.
As he attempts to settle into retirement, Garrity takes heart knowing he’s left his former duties in what he said are very capable hands. Or, as he put it, he started with the best and he’s leaving with the best. He’s also looking forward to spending more time with his wife, children and grandchildren. And while he’s not sure what the future holds, one thing is certain — his work isn’t quite done. He still remains the chair of the Hibbing Public Utilities Commission and has been tossing around the idea of consulting.
“I’ll miss it,” he said. “I’ve been involved in so many projects, but I never was the one who did it… Everything I did, I was part of a group. I was always working with others, nothing was me. I’m proud of all the work, and I’m proud of where Hibbing is today.”