Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Friday, March 20, 2015

On De-Criminalizing Spitting

This morning Council Member Blong Yang and I gave formal notice of our intention to bring to the City Council a motion to repeal two of the city’s ordinances that criminalize some instances of spitting and lurking.  I plan to write more about lurking later, and to address the city’s “spitting ordinance:” here.  

The basic ordinance we use today was passed in 1898. It was amended slightly in 1904 and perhaps later.  It apparently was used around the turn of the century.  According to records I found from the day, arrests went from about 200 arrests were made in 1904 to 21 in 1908 and back to 1 in 1909, although one source indicated there were as many as 400 arrests in 1909.  It is clear from reading the news and the Council proceedings from the time period that the passage of this ordinance was intended to help prevent the spread of Tuberculosis (TB) in a time when the use of chewing/spitting tobacco was common in Minneapolis, much more common that it is today. While today we know that TB is an air born disease spread when infectious people sneeze, cough, talk or spit, there was less certainty then.  Additionally, it appears use of chewing and spitting tobacco was seen as a nuisance. In 1904 passage of another related ordinance made tuberculosis reportable.  In 1909 in Minneapolis there were 356 deaths and 434 living cases of Tuberculosis reported. (from ATuberculosis Directory: Containing a List of Institutions, Associations andOther Agencies Dealing with Tuberculosis in the United States and Canada, NationalAssociation for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis, 1911)

It appears that arrests for spitting and depositing tobacco feel off quickly. Only a few years after the height of the tuberculosis epidemic in Minneapolis, in 1913, there were only 2 spitting violations reported of over 12,000 violations of all city ordinances reported that year.  One hundred years late, in 2013, as far as I can tell so far, there was only one citation given and in 2014 there were none. 

That said, I have heard individual reports of people being stopped for spitting.  Some of the attention to this ordinance comes from reports that it is sometimes used by police to initiate enforcement actions against people, and that those interactions are often with people of color.

Here is the specific language, which appears to allow spitting in some places (yards, ball fields, parkland, boulevards and even in the street itself) but prohibits spitting in most indoor public places and on sidewalks:

“213.30. - Spitting; depositing tobacco.

No person shall spit or expectorate or deposit or place any sputum, spittle, saliva, phlegm, mucus, tobacco juice, cigarette stumps, cigar stumps or quids of tobacco upon the floor, walls or stairway or any part of any public hall or building, depot, market, theater, church or place of public amusement; or upon, into or through any grating, area or stairway; or upon any sidewalk of any public street; or upon the floor, furnishings or equipment of any motor bus while it is in use upon the streets of the city. “

To my way of thinking this falls into a category of behaviors that would best be described as “things people probably shouldn't do, but shouldn't necessarily be a crime.”  There are lots of behaviors that are not particularly polite, and can spread disease.  For example, not covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough, and not washing your hands afterwards.  Those behaviors are most likely significantly more likely to spread disease, but they are not against the law in Minneapolis.  Spitting and depositing tobacco waste certainly are unsanitary and potentially offensive, but I am convinced that they no longer rise to the level of requiring an ordinance or the use of police and court resources to manage and regulate, even if they did in 1898 and in 1904.  Public awareness and education are better approaches.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Healthy Communities

The Minneapolis Health Department has developed a new Healthy Communities Assessment Tool. This online resource provides information about the physical, social and economic conditions of community health in Minneapolis Includes 41 health indicators at the neighborhood level. The indicators were determined at a national level and we are one of four pilot cities in the United States selected by Healthy Housing Solutions Inc. and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to participate in this pilot project. The way it is being presented now may make too big a deal out of rankings, but this offers a way to look at strengths and weaknesses and may provide insights into what needs more research and focus in your neighborhood.]

I am very excited to see this coming forward and look forward to seeing how we can use it to make better decisions and investments in Minneapolis.

Check it out at here  .

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Cradle to K Draft Plan

I was very excited to see that in January, the Mayor’s Cradle to Kindergarten (K) Cabinet released its draft plan to address early childhood disparities. The plan outlines policy, legislative and collaboration recommendations intended to help ensure that all Minneapolis residents are able to thrive during their first years of life. 

Please take a few minutes to read the draft plan

I commend the group and the Mayor for this overdue focus 0 – 3 year-olds and for the practical, research based recommendations it makes under each of the following three goals:

Goal One: All children 0 to three will receive a healthy start rich with early experiences that prepares them for successful early education and literacy.
1. Increase early childhood screening at age three.
2. Improve mental health services of children birth to three.
3. Decrease the “Word Gap” of children birth to three.
4. Expand targeted home visiting services.
5. Increase community awareness and engagement in the importance of early childhood development

Goal Two: All children are stably housed.
1. Increase housing options for the lowest income families at 30% Area Median Income.
2. Target funding to address the needs of homeless children and families to improve their stability while on the path to housing.
3. Provide resources for very-low income families to become economically stable.

Goal Three: All children ages 0-3 have continuous access to high quality child development centered care.
1. Ensure that low-income families have access to financial resources to afford high quality early learning programs.
2. Increase the number of available high quality child care slots in Minneapolis.
3. Partner with family, friend and neighbor providers to ensure that the children they serve are prepared for kindergarten.

Over the next few weeks, the City, though the Mayor’s office,  will be accepting and reviewing feedback to incorporate into the final report. That report is due out later this spring.

You can provide feedback using a web- form here or, and especially if you have attachments to share, you can send those here. I look forward to being part of participating in the draft of the final plan which I hope to see approved and implemented in the years to come.

Additionally the Health, Environment and Community Engagement Committee will get a presentation of the draft plan, discuss it and offer feedback on March 2nd at 1:30 pm. The meeting in the Council Chambers in room 317 of City Hall will be open to the public and televised. 

2015 Budget Recap and Resources

Last year, on December 10, following an intense and often passionate public hearing; and a lengthy and sometimes emotional debate by the City Council, the 2015 budget was approved. This followed an earlier Budget Committee meeting where the Council voted 7-6 to support amendments to the proposed 2015 budget that reduced funding for several high priorities of mine including the newly formed Clean Energy Partnership, homeownership support, community engagement funding for the One Minneapolis Fund, an outside evaluation of our community engagement system and a Civil Rights Department Disparity study. Fortunately, at that meeting, a proposal to shift funding for pedestrian and bicyclist safety from ongoing to one-time dollars was withdrawn and an attempt to cut a proposed racial equity position in the City Coordinator’s office failed on a 7-6 vote.  Subsequently, on the 10th, funding for the Clean Energy Partnership and the One Minneapolis Fund was restored by shifting some funds from other sources, and cutting from two staff positions focused on improving communication with non-English speakers. This was passed after the seven-member majority rejected an alternative compromise I moved that would have instead used funding slated for a $500,000 Convention Center enhancement for Meet Minneapolis’ tourism marketing efforts. In the end these cuts reduced the property tax levy by approximately $790,000. The final approved levy amount is $222, 814,000, of which $153,929,000 is for the general operating fund for city departments. 

The cuts came from the following:
  •  $150,000 deducted from the 300,000 needed for the Civil Rights Disparity Study effectively delaying or derailing this important study needed to justify and target efforts to close gender, racial and other disparities in employment.
  •  $100,000 from what I considered an unwise and unnecessary $500,000 enhancement to the Convention Center budget to go to Meet Minneapolis for tourism promotional and marketing activities.
  • $75,000 taken from a Homeownership and Foreclosure prevention counseling and outreach program aimed and helping middle and low income people keep their homes and become first time homeowners.
  • $120,000 from the Health Insurance expenses unneeded because of unanticipated reduction in costs.
  • $80,000 for a new neighborhood specialist staff person to support neighborhood organizations
  • $174,000 from money intended to fund 2 additional Communications department staff to boost collaboration with the Neighborhood and Community Relations Department and non-English media outlets to ensure that City news and information reach diverse communities across the City.

While happy to have preserved and recovered funding for some of my priority items and generally supportive of much of the budget, I ultimately voted against it.  I did this because I believe the modest levy increase approved by the Board of Estimate and recommended by the Mayor was financially wise and I remain concerned about some of spending priorities that put support for some of the wealthiest sectors of the city ahead of efforts to improve the lives of and those whose needs may be the greatest.  Additionally, I voted no to show my opposition to the Council’s inability or unwillingness to work harder find a consensus, and to forge a compromise that would have better reflected not only the priorities and interests of all Council members, but also the priorities and interests of all Minneapolis residents. You can watch a broadcast of the almost 5 hour long December 10 meeting under 2014 Budget Hearings under 2014 City Council meetings online.  You can find the official record of the December 10th meeting here

Here are a few notable highlights of this year’s budget that came up during the December deliberations:
  • $250,000 to fun two new positions in the Coordinator’s office to focus on racial-equity.
  • $3.5 million to fund the $50 million redesign of Nicollet Mall.
  • $250,000 in planning dollars for the redevelopment of the Upper Harbor.
  • $790,000 for a network of protected bike lanes, plus funding for snow management of these.
  • $150,000 to fund staff and program resources working on the new Clean Energy Partnership.
  • Funding to start and operate a curbside organics recycling service.
  • $55,000 for downtown youth workers.
  • An additional $70,000 in education and support for parents and caregivers of adolescents.
  • $250,000 enhancement  for the Convention Center to go to Meet Minneapolis’ marketing efforts
  • $400,000 to support the Downtown Council’s new Holiday Market
  • Funding to support 10 more police officers, for an authorized strength of 860 sworn officers.
  • $1.14 million over two years for body cameras for the Police Department.
  • Close to $1 million for community service officer training.
  • $960,000 for training a police cadet class of 18.
  • $800,000 for two new fire fighter classes, and one class added to the department’s base.
  • $346,000 for an additional four 911 operators.
  • $250,000 for pedestrian safety improvements.
  • $25,000 added for public art.
  • $55,000 for the Minneapolis Highrise Representative Council for Project Lookout.
  • Increased and consolidating housing dollars to bring the Affordable Housing Trust Fund up to $10 million.
  • No funding for the Great Streets Program but an additional $100,000 to support small business development through the Business Technical Assistance Program.
  • $150,000 for the One Minneapolis Fund to support the development of diverse leadership and civic participation. 

One additional budget amendment that I was able to move through with the help of Council Member Palmisano was to allocate $70,000 for an external assessment of our neighborhood engagement system. We are developing the scope of the study now and hope to issue a Request for Proposals in February and have an evaluation back in August.

You can find the final approved 2015 here.

Additionally just this week the City launched a new financial transparency online platform powered by that provides unprecedented access to the City’s finances. The software allows people to see financial data in a variety of interesting ways which may help people understand the City budget better. You can get started and learn more about using the system here . The platform can also be accessed at

I hope residents, reporters, bloggers, business owners and staff will make use of this to explore the budget, long-term trends and details in new ways.  People can compare the 2015 budget to previous years dating to 2008 and view revenues and expenses by fund, department and expense type on interactive graphs. The current year report provides insight into spending and revenues year-to-date. I am also excited to see this might be used to create custom reports and shed light on details within the finances of the city.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Getting More Data on Arrests and Stops

This morning, the Council approved a staff direction I worked on with Council Member Blong Yang that will give the Council better access to data on low-level arrests and police stops in our city. Here's the direction:

Motion by Gordon and Yang

Directing the Police Department and City Attorney’s Office to provide data on misdemeanor arrests, charging, prosecution and diversion by race, gender, age, geography, and offence for the years 2010-2014, and report back to the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Emergency Management committee in the second quarter of 2015.

Further directing the Attorney’s Office and Police Department to make recommendations concerning the development of a policy and potential protocol for the recording and reporting of demographic information, especially race and location, of police stops that do not necessarily lead to an arrest, and to report back with recommendations regarding this in the second quarter of 2015.

This appears to be a very careful, small step that will do nothing more than compile and share information. It is.  But, it also presents an opportunity to better identify, understand and address the institutional racism, racial profiling and discrimination that may be operating, even unwittingly, in Minneapolis’ criminal justice system.  It could be a critically important step towards understanding the impacts of our criminal justice system in Minneapolis.  

The first part of the direction will give us the information that can allow the Council to have a well-grounded discussion about our policing, prosecution and diversion practices.  The second will start a conversation about how we can collect information about the impacts of "stop and frisk" or "stop and talk" activities of the police department.

My goal is to address the real concerns expressed by Minneapolis communities about the disparate impacts of policing on communities of color, while continuing to provide public safety for all.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

2015 Budget - Reaction The Day After Reaction

Last night, after a boisterous public hearing and some more contentious, 7-6 votes, the Council adopted the 2015 budget.  Here are some key takeaways:

The community came out in force.  In addition to tens of emails and phone calls to Council Members, more than sixty people came to speak to the Council about the importance of investing in clean energy and equity.  Only one person spoke in favor of the levy reduction.

We won back most of the losses from last week.  The Council voted unanimously to restore many of the cuts that were made last week.  Most importantly to me, we restored all of the funding for the Clean Energy Partnership, most of the funding for the One Minneapolis Fund, and a small amount of the funding for homeownership counseling and foreclosure prevention.  I do not think these wins would have been possible without all of the pressure the community brought to bear.

This budget includes a lot of progressive wins.  There is a lot of progressive stuff in this budget that was not in contention last night.  This includes the City's first positions to address racial equity, body cameras for police, a citywide organics collection program, dedicated funding for protected bikeways, our first stable source of funding for improvements to bicycle and pedestrian safety, and more.

We weren't able to craft a real compromise.  As I said above, there were a number of 7-6 votes last night.  The votes were the same as they were last week: Council Members Glidden, Cano, Bender, Quincy, Andrew Johnson and me against Council Members Reich, Frey, Barb Johnson, Yang, Warsame, Goodman and Palmisano.  This slim majority of the Council voted to get rid of two positions in the Communications divison that were intended to help with communicating with communities that do not speak English as a first language, and to put this money into a further - unnecessary and unwise - levy reduction.  A substitute motion offered by Council Member Glidden to put the budget savings in a "rainy day" fund failed 7-6, despite the fact that one of the Council Members who voted against it said - twice - at last week's budget meeting that he would support such a motion.  That same majority rejected multiple attempts to completely restore the cuts to homeownership counseling and foreclosure prevention or the One Minneapolis Fund using the one-time dollars for marketing the convention center (which is, in my view, a much lower priority).  I believed that we could come together with a compromise that could get the support of all thirteen of us, and was disappointed that that didn't happen.  I stand by my quote in the Star Tribune article: It almost feels like it was a power struggle going on here, rather than an effort to make a budget for a better city.  It certainly felt like the cuts to the non-English speaking communications positions were directed at one Council Member in particular, and I have serious concerns about the Council making policy this way.

Due to my disappointment in the Council's failure to come together and compromise, and the damage that this whole process has done to the working relationships we have, I voted against this budget.

I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to rebuild our capacity to work constructively together over the next months and years.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Climate Action Champion

This week, the White House made public that the City of Minneapolis has won designation as a “Climate Action Champion.”  We are one of sixteen cities and counties to be given this designation, along with San Francisco, Seattle, and others.

This is somewhat ironic, given that we’re in the middle of a rather public debate about whether we want to fully fund the commitments we’ve made to climate action.  I’m hoping that this will help remind my colleagues of the importance of the Clean Energy Partnership – which was one of the key arguments we made in our successful application for this honor.  In order to retain our reputation for being a leader on climate policy, we have to continue to actually lead.

It’s also important to note that the work of the Partnership is not the limit of our work on climate change.  The Council has also adopted a set of short-term, two-year priorities for implementing the Climate Action Plan.  This is the existing work of our two-person Sustainability office.

This Climate Action Champion recognition does not come with direct funding attached.  It does come with an opportunity to seek federal grants from multiple agencies.  While there are not funds for City functions like staffing our end of the Clean Energy Partnership, there may be potential future funds that could help the City and utilities implement the programs the Partnership creates.  This makes it even more important that we fully support the work of the Partnership, because we can only seek funding for projects that we can develop.

From the City’s press release:

As part of President Obama’s strategy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the White House launched the Climate Action Champions competition in October to identify and recognize local climate leaders and to provide targeted federal support to help those communities reach their climate and energy goals.

This designation comes with some clear we will benefit from facilitated peer-to-peer learning and mentorship and targeted support from a range of federal programs. Furthermore, a coordinator will be provided to each Climate Action Champion to foster coordination and communication across the federal agencies, national organizations, and foundations in support of the champions. The coordinator will also assist efforts to raise awareness of funding and technical assistance opportunities that are available specifically for Climate Action Champions. Resources come from federal agencies including the Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Minneapolis won the designation because of its commitment to clean energy. The City and its electricity and natural gas utilities, Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy, have committed to a first-of-its-kind in the nation City-utility Clean Energy Partnership. The partnership will result in the City and utility companies collaborating in new ways to help Minneapolis achieve its climate and energy goals. These goals include making energy affordable and reliable for everyone while increasing energy efficiency, increasing renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gases. The City of Minneapolis has also developed the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan, which includes greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of 15 percent by 2015, 30 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050.

From deep droughts to fierce wildfires, severe storms to rising seas, communities across the United States are already grappling with the impacts of extreme weather and climate change. Faced with these new challenges, many cities, towns, counties, and tribes in every region of the country are stepping up to cut carbon pollution, deploy more clean energy, boost energy efficiency, and build resilience in their communities to climate impacts.

From creating climate-smart building codes to installing green infrastructure to setting targets for reducing energy consumption, the 16 local and tribal communities selected as Climate Action Champions have considered their climate vulnerabilities and taken decisive action to cut carbon pollution and build resilience.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

2015 Budget Cuts - Clean Energy

Yesterday, the Council’s budget committee made what I think was a terrible decision to make cuts in three critically important priority areas in order to make a very minor reduction in the tax levy. These three areas represent longtime priorities for me and, more recently, adopted priorities for the Council: fighting climate change, ending racial inequities and improving community engagement.

This was accomplished on a narrow 7-6 vote for a change to the budget proposed by Council Member Linea Palmisano.  To save the median homeowner about $2.50 in 2015, we gutted our commitments to equity, clean energy and support for neighborhood engagement.

Here are the details.  Council Member Palmisano brought a change to the budget that limited the amount of the levy increase.  This levy reduction on its own is a bad idea.  Why?  Because the City’s budget prospects – given the fact that the Republicans have retaken the Minnesota House, which threatens future Local Government Aid – are likely to be worse in future years.  By reducing the levy increase this year, we are very likely increasing it by even more for future years.  This is just bad budgeting in the first place.

But it’s worse than that, because to achieve these cuts, we did considerable damage to the progressive policy commitments we’ve made over the past year.

In this post I will take a closer look at the cuts to fighting climate change. In subsequent entries I will address the issues of equity and community engagement.

On Clean Energy and Climate:

Two months ago, we made a commitment to form a Clean Energy Partnership with Xcel and CenterPoint, our electric and gas utilities.  The Council passed the Memorandum of Understanding to form that Partnership unanimously.  We made this commitment knowing that the Energy Pathways study recommended, staff had recommended, and the Mayor had proposed as part of her budget, $150,000 for a new staff person to manage all of the new work of the Partnership.

To make these ill-considered budget cuts, the Council majority cut this investment in the Clean Energy Partnership in half, from $150,000 to $75,000.  But we don’t get half as much work for half as much money.  Rather than being able to hire someone to staff the Partnership, we won’t be able to do so.  This sends a clear and terrible signal to the utilities and the community that we do not really mean the commitments we made about making energy a priority.

We made these commitments in response to more than a year of tremendous community pressure for City action on our energy system.  During that year, many of my colleagues – as candidates, at the time – told the Minneapolis Energy Options campaign that they were very supportive of the City taking a leadership role on clean energy.  Tens of people spoke in favor of forming this Partnership at the public hearing on October 6thZero people attended our public hearing on the budget to complain about their property tax burden.

Yesterday’s action was out of line with at least three policy actions taken by this City Council:

  1. The Energy Pathways Study, adopted unanimously on March 7th, recommended that the City “dedicate funding through one percent of franchise fee revenues.”   The expected franchise fee revenues for 2015 are $29 million.  1% of that amount is $290,000.  The mayor’s proposed funding for the partnership was already about half of the amount recommended by the Pathways study – which, again, passed the Council unanimously. 
  2. The City’s Goals and Strategic Directions include this goal: “we sustain resources for future generations by reducing consumption, minimizing waste and using less energy.”  This goal was also adopted in March.
  3. The Memoranda of Understanding between the City and Xcel and CenterPoint both contain the following commitment: “The Parties each commit to provide staff and resources appropriate to complete the Work.”  These MOUs passed the Council unanimously on October 17th.  

As one of my colleagues put it in committee, there’s a difference between “talking progressive versus acting progressive.”  Talking progressive is saying things like “encouraging use of clean energy and ensuring excellent service are not mutually exclusive concepts… I am hopeful the Clean Energy Partnership will achieve both goals,” when the Clean Energy Partnership passes the Council.   Acting progressive would be voting to fully fund the Partnership.

Those of my colleagues who voted to ignore the commitments we’ve made and gut the Partnership:
Linea Palmisano (who made the motion)
Kevin Reich
Jacob Frey
Barb Johnson
Blong Yang
Abdi Warsame
Lisa Goodman

Those of my colleagues who voted with me to preserve the commitments we’ve made to clean energy:
Elizabeth Glidden
Alondra Cano
Lisa Bender
John Quincy
Andrew Johnson

This is not the end of this story.  I will be moving to replace these funds on December 10th, taking funding from another source.  The $400,000 in additional new funding for the Convention Center to market itself is one potential target.

In the meantime, I’m hoping that supporters of clean energy make their voices heard, as they have over the course of the last year.  Because it’s clear that the Council will not do the right thing on energy without a strong show of force from energy activists.