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, September 02, 2016

August 2016 Newsletter

For the latest news from Ward 2 in Minneapolis please check our our monthly newsletter here.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Court Decision on the Minimum Wage Charter Amendment Should Not be Appealed

I was very heartened by the decision by Judge Susan Robiner on Monday that the minimum wage charter amendment should be placed on the ballot in Minneapolis. It was a powerful decision, and echoed many of the arguments that I made when opposing the Council majority's decision to keep this amendment off the ballot.
The City of Minneapolis is doing a real disservice to our constituents and our democracy in appealing this decision as reported in the paper. I want to be clear: there has been no formal Council vote to authorize the appeal. The City Attorney has decided to move forward with the appeal under the authorization of the Council vote on August 5th.
I would strongly prefer that we leave this precedent in place. It's a good, pro-democracy ruling that clears up something that seems to have been confusing: the people do indeed get to decide whether a given issue is appropriate to address in the Charter or not, through the process established by state statute (which the campaign has followed to the letter). The idea that an issue is inappropriate to address in the Charter is a *political* question for the campaign (and counter-campaign) to address, not a *legal* question that the City Council has the right to answer on behalf of the people.
And I want to be clear that by appealing this decision, we are forcing this campaign - a campaign led by grassroots organizations, working on behalf of the poorest people in our community - to spend its limited resources fighting the City in court rather than organizing for a win this fall. I have a problem with that. Every dollar spent on legal fees is a dollar not spent on organizers, literature, and the thousand other things necessary to win this campaign in November. (And, because some of the organizations supporting this campaign have a statewide focus, each of the dollars wasted fighting the City in court could be used for progressive change well outside of Minneapolis.)
I wish that we could have let the strong, well-reasoned Robiner ruling stand, embraced the idea that the people of Minneapolis will get to vote on raising wages for the poorest workers in our city this November, and gotten to work on winning that vote. Unfortunately, that has not happened, and that's one of several disappointments I've had with the City as an enterprise throughout this whole discussion of a local minimum wage.
But I have hope that despite these frustrations and disappointments, we are on the path towards greater economic justice by increasing wages for poor workers in our city.
The conclusion of the decision could not be stronger:
"To conclude, the City cannot avoid certain realities that defeat its position:
• No Minnesota case law supports the City’s claim that general welfare legislation may only be proposed through initiative and referendum;
• No Minnesota case law supports the City’s claim that “all local municipal functions” means only “the form, structure, and functioning of the municipal government”;
• Minnesota cases have allowed district courts to enjoin elections only where the proposed charter amendment was unconstitutional or conflicted with state law neither of which are even argued by the City; and,
• For a Court to enjoin a ballot initiative based on its content when that proposal has garnered the proper number of signatures and proceeded properly could reasonably be seen as overreaching its specific role under Minn. Stat. § 204B.44 and its general role in a government that respects separation of powers."

It Is Wrong to Block the Minimum Wage Amendment from Going on the Ballot

This month's conversation about the minimum wage charter amendment has been interesting and sometimes intense and contentious. Despite being on the minority-end of the decision, and having the City Attorney's opinion arguing against my opinion, I still strongly believe that the City Council reached the wrong conclusion when we voted 10 - 2 to block the proposed minimum wage charter amendment from being on the ballot. While in the end we may have moved a little closer to the ultimate goal of raising wages for the lowest-wage workers in Minneapolis through a promising staff direction, if the action on Wednesday is formally approved by the full Council on Friday, the fair, democratic process set out in state law is not being honored. If the committee recommendation is ratified, the voters of Minneapolis will be wrongly prevented from having the chance to vote on an issue that they should have been able to in November and we, as a Council, did not fulfill our responsibility and duty as a City Council.
Given the fact that my opinion represented such a super-minority on the Council, and contradicted the opinion of the City Attorney and chair of the Charter Commission, I wanted to offer more details into how I reached my conclusion.
First, the conclusion: I believe that I, as a Council Member, was obligated to allow the minimum wage question to be placed on the ballot.
The resolution itself, that was put forward to keep the issue off of the ballot included a clause that I considered to be incorrect. It said, "That the City Council finds the proposed charter amendment constitutes the submission of an ordinance to the Council by petition of the electors.. [that] is not a proper subject for a charter amendment." I could not support it and will not vote for it at the Council meeting on Friday.
Early on in my decision-making process, I identified three key things that any citizen/petition proposed charter amendment would have to meet. If these things are met, in my opinion, it would be my legal obligation to approve putting the matter on the ballot and approve ballot language. Here are the three key requirements:
1. The petition itself must have the sufficient number of registered voters signing it and be in the proper format as outlined in state law (Chapter 410 - )
2. It must conform with state law (Chapter 410) relating to City Charters.
3. The proposed change cannot be in clear violation of federal or state law, or "manifestly unconstitutional."
I think the City Attorney was mostly on target when she wrote in her opinion, "When a citizen petition has been presented with the requisite number of signatures of registered voters, the City Council has a ministerial duty to place the measure on the ballot unless the proposed amendment contravenes the public policy of the state, is preempted by state or federal law, is in conflict with any statutory or constitutional provision or contains subjects that are not proper subjects for a charter under Chapter 410." Although, I think we need to be extremely cautious about attempting to accommodate all public policy of the state or try to guess the intent and spirit of legislation or that we need to be the judge of what is "proper subject matter" to go in a charter. Both seem to leave huge openings for interpretations and for bias and are not clearly outlined anywhere in 410.
So, on my more limited and clear three criteria:
1. The proposed amendment had more than enough signatures, collected in the proper format. The petition needed a number of registered voters equal to at least 5 percent of the total votes cast at the last state general election. For this election that number was 6,869. The $15 Minimum Wage petition contained 17,902 signatures total and 8,418 were validated to be registered voters in Minneapolis.
2. The amendment conformed with state law, it pertained to a "proposed new scheme or frame work of government." and met all the other requirements of Chapter 410.
And, 3., the content of the amendment was not in violation of state or federal law or the state or federal constitutions. There are no laws prohibiting the establishment of Minimum Wages. In fact, the federal and state governments have enacted similar laws and there are NO prohibitions or preemptions against the city passing such a law, in any legislative document, be it a charter or a code of ordinances.
So, this proposed amendment meets all three of these tests. So, it is my "ministerial duty to place the measure on the ballot" and not to block it from appearing on the ballot.
Interestingly enough, in her opinion, the City Attorney appears to be asserting that there is a fourth, perhaps more important test, not included in state statute: whether the proposed amendment is "properly" a charter amendment, or whether it is properly "legislation" which she appears to interpret as being an ordinance vs. a charter provision. In my view, the charter is also legislation. I respect the Attorney's opinion, (and admit that voters and judges might agree with her in the end) but I disagree that this test gives the Council the authority to block the people from amending their city's charter. I'll note that I agree with one of the coalition's attorneys: the City Attorney's opinion is based nearly entirely on a single paragraph in a single court case, which was not even referenced in the decision of that court case. There are not clean statutory definitions of "legislation" or limitations placed on the sorts of topics charters can cover.
The question as to whether an issue is more appropriate for a charter amendment or an ordinance is, in my opinion, an unfortunate distraction. It was proposed as a charter amendment, and thousands of people signed petitions to bring it forward as a charter amendment. Chapter 410 itself says very little about subject matters but does state that a petition must contain a summary of "any proposed new scheme or frame work of government." So, it seems clear that the subject ought to be a scheme or framework of local government. Granting the authority to the Council to set a minimum wage, and defining what that is and how it will regulated is most certainly a scheme of government. So, because it was before us and met the strict legal requirements as I see them, it should be up to the voters to determine if this belongs in the charter. Whether it's something most appropriate to be in the charter is a great point to debate during a campaign, not something the Council had the proper authority to decide.
As I said yesterday, the Council majority and City Attorney have valid arguments, but they are beside the critical points we need to consider and went beyond the legal test that the petition needed to pass.
I might even agree that something like a minimum wage might be better as an ordinance, or that taking more time and drafting it as an ordinance might be a better strategy for getting it, or something like it, passed, but that is not what we were to base our determination on. Also, and clearly, past Minneapolis City Councils and voters have seen fit to include many things in the charter that I and others might have felt were better suited to be ordinances. These included provisions about horses, bread, food and liquor sales at restaurants and more. A few years ago we decided that it would be a good idea to remove some of those from the charter - and we did it. Not by a simple Council vote however. No, we the right way, by putting the question forward to the voters.
Others, including legal experts, have given voice to the ambiguity as to the legality of yesterday's decision, and when there is that level of ambiguity I believe we should err on the side of democracy.
Still, the pressure from this decision and the clear message sent from the thousands of people in Minneapolis calling on us to do something, may have moved us a little closer to taking future action to set a local minimum wage and, in doing so, help address the deep and unjust economic disparities in our city by raising the wages of the lowest-wage workers in Minneapolis.
Seeing it as a needed opening and positive sign is why I then voted in favor of motion to direct City staff to begin work on a Minneapolis minimum wage - a motion which passed 9-3. That is a very important step in the right direction, and a step I don't think we were ready to take before now.
I thank Council Members Frey, Warsame and Bender for putting this staff direction forward. I also thank Council Member Cano for her attempt to make that staff direction even stronger and more specific (which unfortunately failed on a 6-6 tie). It is good to see a clear majority of my colleagues expressing support - new, explicit support - for a Minneapolis wage increase. I look forward to seeing this staff direction pass the Council tomorrow.
And make no mistake: the progress we made this morning was due in very large part to this charter amendment campaign. The organizers - 15NowMN, NOC, CTUL and others - and the thousands of people who signed petitions to place this issue on the ballot, the hundreds who showed up, called and emailed, have changed the conversation in Minneapolis. Before this campaign, the chances of the Council passing a strong minimum wage ordinance before the next municipal election were somewhere between slim and none. Now I am more than optimistic, I am confident that we can pass such an ordinance by next spring.
In September I expect us to get our report back on the effects of raising the minimum wage in Minneapolis and the region. I hope we can use that to further understanding and build more support for a strong city consensus on a fair, reasonable and strong minimum wage ordinance in Minneapolis.
I realize that, depending on if and how the court may end up intervening, we may still end up seeing this on the ballot this November.
But if not, I am ready and eager to work on and vote for a strong and broadly supported $15 minimum wage ordinance as a Council Member in early 2017.
Either way --- if a judge ends up ordering this on the ballot and a campaign follows or if a coalition of Council Members puts together an ordinance next year ---- to pass it we will need the ongoing help of all supporters, advocates, organizers and others who worked on the charter amendment petition effort. And if you gathered signatures, called, carried a sign, signed a petition, sent an email or talked to friends and family about putting the minimum wage on the ballot, that victory will be yours.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Accomplishments for 2015

It has become a tradition in the Ward 2 Office to look back at the end of each year and review our accomplishments.  There is little doubt that 2015 was a challenging year for the City of Minneapolis.  With the death of Jamar Clark in late November and through the protests that followed, we have had to face ongoing impacts of historical and present-day racism and injustice and our City government is struggling to find a way to respond with meaningful changes.    

But 2015 also saw the success of many initiatives the Second Ward office has championed.  Here is our list for this year:

For Justice:
-          I coauthored (with Council Member Blong Yang) the successful repeal of the City’s antiquated and unjust ordinances that criminalized “lurking” and spitting
-          I coauthored (with Council member Lisa Bender) an ordinance that allows more flexibility for siting emergency shelters for people experiencing homelessness
-          I stood with the community and actively supported the people’s right to peaceably assemble in response to the police shooting of Jamar Clark and the protests at the 4th Precinct
-          I authored a staff direction that required the Police Department and Attorney’s Office to provided a detailed multi-year report to the Council, for the first time, on low-level offenses with data on who has been arrested, where and what  the consequences of those arrests have been.
-          I opposed a last-minute amendment to devote more than $600,000 to security investments at the 4th Precinct
-          I fought for the City to adopt a fair scheduling ordinance, but was ultimately unsuccessful
-          The City hired our first Racial Equity staff in the Coordinator’s office, something I have advocated for years, and supported in last year’s budget

For the Environment:
-          I authored (with Council Member Linea Palmisano)a resolution declaring Minneapolis a pollinator-friendly city, pledging to not use synthetic pesticides, planting more forage for pollinators, and urging others to follow our example
-          I coauthored (with Council Member Alondra Cano)a resolution divesting from fossil fuels and urging other entities to divest
-          The Clean Energy Partnership, which I worked to create and on which I serve, appointed a strong Energy Vision Advisory Committee, adopted its first 2-year work plan and metrics, and funded free Energy Squad visits for low-income homeowners and zero-percent financing for energy efficiency improvements
-          The Council voted to subscribe to community solar, and directed staff to start a process to put out a City-led request for proposals for community solar
-          I submitted formal comments on the draft Xcel Energy resource plan, and the later draft of that plan includes significantly more reductions in fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions
-          I directed public works staff to overhaul the City’s Urban Forest Policy in light of the clear evidence from a Tree Failure Report that our sidewalk repair practices have damaged tree roots, leaving trees vulnerable to wind storms

For Smart and Equitable Development:
-          I authored a resolution that creates a new City designation for Innovation Districts, and authored a second resolution designating the University Avenue Innovation District to support Prospect North
-          I took a firm position against a tax giveaway for a privately-owned soccer stadium

For Local Food:
-          I authored an ordinance changes that allow more flexibility for “limited production and processing” in commercial areas, to support small local food processors
-          I shepherded a policy through the Council that opens up more City-owned land for food growing, for longer lease terms, and for the first time allows market gardeners to access that land
-          I authored an resolution supporting seed sharing libraries, which the legislature subsequently legalized in Minnesota
For Active Transportation:
-          The Council passed the City’s first protected bikeway plan, something I have advocated for years, and has fully funded its implementation
-          One of the first protected bikeways in the City opened this year on Oak Street Southeast, with the strong support and active participation of my office
-          Ward 2’s first-ever Open Streets events were held in the University area and on Lake Street
-          With leadership from my office, the Public Works department has begun a winter maintenance evaluation for bikeways and sidewalks
-          I coauthored a letter of support for Minneapolis to host the 2016 Winter Cycling Congress, and we were chosen as host city

For Youth:
-          Building on the strong advocacy of the Youth Congress, I coauthored (with Council Member Yang) an ordinance prohibiting flavored tobacco except at tobacco-only retailers, and set a minimum price for cigars and cigarillos
-          As Chair of the Youth Coordinating Board, I helped oversee development of the Afterschool Network citywide program finder: What’s Up 612! that launched in June. 

For Zero Waste:
-          The City, led by my office, sought and received funding from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to conduct a study on commercial recycling and waste diversion, and that study is underway
-          I coauthored a resolution establishing an aggressive recycling and waste diversion goal for the City and supporting the adoption of a Zero Waste Plan, which is underway
-          My office crafted an amendment that significantly increases the amount of composting that can occur at community gardens, market gardens and urban farms, while simplifying these regulations

For Democracy and Community Engagement:
-          The Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR) department is finalizing a Blueprint for Equitable Engagement, to ensure that City-supported community engagement activities truly serve all members of our communities
-          I supported an external evaluation of the NCR department and neighborhood organizations
-          The Council has passed a major update to the City’s language access plan for better serving people with limited English proficiency

Local Issues:
My office also works on many issues of local importance for Second Ward neighborhoods.  A few of the local issues we worked on this year include: 
-          Staffing the University Avenue Innovation District and Prospect North Partnership
-          Ensuring that no development would occur in the Glendale Townhomes area without the support of Glendale residents and the broader community
-          Testing a closure at 29th Ave S and the Midtown Greenway, as part of a planned bike boulevard
-          Welcoming a host of new small businesses to our neighborhoods
-          Tracking major developments including 22 on the River, multiple new hotels, the Kemps/Overflow site and much more
-          Starting a Grain Elevator Task Force to respond to the dangers and opportunities created by the mostly vacant elevators in our city
-          Pushing the City to begin the process to purchase right-of-way for the Prospect Park Trail

Work led by my colleagues:
And, as always, my colleagues have been working on good policies that I have been happy to support, including:
-          A rail safety resolution coauthored by Council Members Reich and Palmisano
-          Council Member Bender’s significant reforms to the City’s off-street parking rules
-          Many equity-related activities led by Mayor Hodges including the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice
-          A 2016 Budget that invests more in racial equity, police accountability, biking and clean energy than any the City has ever adopted
-          An ordinance establishing a clear 1% for public art requirement for City projects, authored by Council Members Glidden and Reich

In addition, there are many initiatives that my office has worked on in 2015 that are not yet finished, but that I expect to pass in 2016.

For 2016:
-          An ordinance requiring Minneapolis employers to offer earned sick and safe time to all employees
-          A strong, visionary complete streets policy that will establish a clear, meaningful priority for walking, biking and transit
-          A “Bring Your Own Bag” ordinance prohibiting retailers from providing plastic bags at the point of sale, and establishing a fee for single-use paper bags
-          An ordinance to allow people to form intentional communities that are exempt from our maximum occupancy code
-          A Green Zones policy that will help address historical environmental injustices, help drive City environmental investments to where they are most needed, and support green jobs
-          Ending the requirement for food trucks at farmers markets to have more than one license

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Distracted Media

I am surprised and concerned about the recent media flurry (both mass and social media) resulting from a few limited social media actions taken by one first term Council Member in Minneapolis.

I certainly acknowledge that individuals and media outlets of all types have every right to engage in discussions about what should and should not be public and I share concerns about any individual, elected or not, whose family or personal safety is threatened. But I hope we can resist the inclination to let this distract us from the more critical and more complex story about systemic racism in our city, state and county, that we so desperately need to understand and analyze. Our democracy may well depend on it. The future of our society may depend on it. Black lives certainly depend on it.

Let me be clear, I share Council Member Cano’s commitment to justice and combating the implicit and explicit racism that plagues our city and larger society. But this is not about me or about any Council Member.

Black lives matter. The need to speak out against, protest against, and legislate appropriately against white supremacy and white privilege, bias and hatred, has never been greater. I commend and stand in solidarity with all elected officials in Minneapolis, in the state and from around the country who are calling and working for real transformative public policy changes to reverse white privilege, and bring about meaningful criminal justice reform.

So now, can we please get over this sidebar distraction and get serious about the much harder to tell and more complicated story behind the (apparently legal) violence and injustices we see today, and every day, that are disenfranchising, oppressing, imprisoning and killing people of color in our country? Can we please get real about ending the New Jim Crow, transforming our criminal justice system, dismantling institutional racism and preventing future deaths? And while we’re doing it, let’s keep seeking justice for and remembering those who have already been killed - Jamar Clark, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Terrance Franklin, Mya Hall, Michael Brown, Alexia Christian and so many, many more.

That’s what should matter to us.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Priorities for 2016

What Should the Ward 2 Priorities be for 2016?

I believe that 2016 offers enormous potential for the city to show leadership in addressing some of the most pressing and serious issues of our time, including environmental degradation and climate change; racial disparities in health, education and employment; criminal justice and police reform; the widening income gaps and shrinking middle class and much more. 

Below, in alphabetical order, is our working draft of 16 priorities for 2016.  Please take a moment to read through and think about them.  Then, let me know what you think is missing, what’s there that shouldn’t be and which of the ones remaining you think should be top priorities for next year.

  • Affordable, Fair, Decent Housing for All – Support preservation of existing affordable housing and construction of new affordable housing. Explore ways to better support public housing that serves those most in need. Regulate the inclusion of affordable housing into more new development; make our housing occupancy regulations flexible enough to accommodate more people living in intentional communities.
  • Children and Families – improve cooperation within all city departments and between the city, county, parks, schools, and neighborhood organizations as well as the city’s Youth Cabinet, Youth Congress and the multi-jurisdictional Youth Coordinating Board to make Minneapolis a healthier, better place to raise children that welcomes and supports all families, children and youth.
  • Clean Air, Water and Soil and Healthy Homes – Continue and expand efforts to measure and clean air, water and soil. Draft and approve a strong Green Zone Policy to help address past environment injustice. Invest in our tree canopy. Work with the MPCA and local businesses so businesses adopt more clean practices. Work with the parks, schools and private property owners to encourage adoption of pollinator-friendly, pesticide-free practices.
  • Clean Energy – Leverage the Clean Energy Partnership to further implement our Climate Action Plan and see the city conserve more energy. Participate in community solar and invest in our own power plant(s) to get more of our energy from clean, renewable sources.
  • Community Based Economics – Facilitate creation and growth of small independent and cooperatively owned businesses that provide good jobs and serve the needs of neighborhoods, with a special focus on redevelopment in Ward 2 commercial nodes and corridors like Como Ave SE, E Lake St. and in the Prospect North/ University Avenue Innovation District.
  • Complete Streets Approve and begin implementation of a Complete Streets policy that prioritizes pedestrians, bikes and transit users, and begins to correct for past transportation planning decisions where preference for the single use automobile was paramount, while also making sure the overall network accounts for and works well for all modes.
  • Crime Prevention and Public Safety – Support block club organizing, cooperative police-community relations and better policing practices to prevent crime and ensure public safety.
  • Criminal Justice and Police Reform – Repeal unjust laws that do more harm than good. End “broken windows,” over policing - over prosecution practices. Reform and improve community oversight of the police. Establish a Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform steering committee to guide the work and make policy recommendations to the City Council, City Attorney and Minneapolis Police Department to help address and eliminate racism in the city’s criminal justice system.
  • Effective and Equitable Neighborhood & Community Engagement- Approve and implement a strong plan for neighborhood organizing that will help organizations enfranchise more people, while strengthening, empowering and preserving a healthy, open, democratic and effective system of grassroots neighborhood-level planning, prioritizing and investing into the future.
  • Local Foods and urban agriculture – support urban farms, community gardens and small food producers.
  • Preserve and Invest in our Public Assets –Ensure that we are making wise investments now to sustain and protect our land, river, lakes, public park system, public schools, trails, roads, bridges and other public buildings and infrastructure to ensure that they serve the present and future needs of our city.
  • Racial Equity work to close the racial disparities in poverty, income, employment, educational attainment  and health by implementing a Minneapolis Racial Equity Tool Kit where all city decisions are evaluated using a racial equity framework, progress is tracked carefully through our Results Minneapolis community indicators and support the work of the Everybody In regional collaboration.
  • Thoughtful Growth and Development Both locally (on a project by project basis) and through the redrafting of the Comprehensive Plan, work to ensure that development is done in ways that preserve what we value most about our communities and serve the present and future needs of residents. Improve our livable, walkable neighborhoods and make every neighborhood a “complete neighborhood” while focusing smart density near existing and planned transit corridors.
  • Working Families and Economic Justice – Pass meaningful local reforms that will fight wage theft. Pass a strong paid sick time ordinance and continue efforts to regulate fair scheduling and set a higher minimum wage that is also a living wage.
  • Youth Violence Prevention – Implement the Blueprint to Prevent Youth Violence; bring to scale promising efforts, like the BUILD program, to provide resources for children and families at highest risk for violence. Work to reduce gun violence, homicides and injuries for 0 to 24 year-olds. Support youth re-entry services; tailor employment opportunities for high risk youth; provide chemical dependency treatment, mental health support, community healing and trauma informed care and promote alternatives, like restorative justice, to detention.
  • Zero Waste Adopt a comprehensive Zero Waste plan; fully implement the citywide organic waste collection system eliminate packaging (like the single use plastic carry-out bags), that cannot be effectively composted or recycled; and find ways to better organize and regulate waste from commercial properties and large apartment buildings to keep it out of landfills and the downtown garbage burner.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Surprise "Hearing" on 4th Precinct

I was surprised today when the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Emergency Management Committee voted to take public comment on what is happening at the 4th precinct.

While I appreciate that members of the public were able to address a Council Committee on the situation at the 4th precinct today and voted to allow it, I was very concerned and confused about the timing and the motivation. The comment period was added at the last minute (during the Committee meeting) to an agenda that had been set days before. There was no general notice to the general public about the opportunity, although it appeared that a few people knew about it before hand. So, we allowed some members of our community, and the Police Federation president, to address the committee and have their views broadcast, without giving other members of our community any notice that this opportunity would be occurring. I am certain that many people throughout the city would have made time to come and speak on this topic. Indeed, it is the fact that this is such a critically important, complex and controversial issue that I am even more concerned about this action today.

Clearly, the police shooting of Jamar Clark and the protests that have followed are of deep concern to residents throughout the city. Many residents are anxious for a chance to share their concerns, views and ideas with their elected city leaders. A thoughtful, well planned and well facilitated listening session certainly seems appropriate. In fact, it might offer a chance for the Council to help people listen to each other, better understand their differences, and in doing so, move closer to finding common ground to help us move forward towards finding solutions, resolving conflicts and setting a course to reach the values and goals we all share.

Even if we just wanted to have a conversation about the situation at the 4th Precinct - and, as or more importantly, the REASONS that people are protesting - that's something that would be very much worth our committee's time. In fact, my staff, with my support, raised just such an idea at the Public Safety committee's last agenda setting meeting, but it was decided that the committee would not do that. So, I was especially surprised by the last-minute decision to open time up and to be addressed by the Police Federation president and a few, seemingly forewarned or invited residents.

I believe that most or all of my colleagues have had the opportunity to meet and talk with protesters and with organizers of Black Lives Matter, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, the Minneapolis NAACP and others who are part of the protests since the shooting of Jamar Clark. Perhaps too few of us have taken that opportunity. And now, today, it seems like the Council went a step further, declaring that not only won't some of us go on our own to engage in a discussion with the protesters, but we will actively hide an opportunity for them to address us openly, and only make that opportunity available to a few people.

After the meeting I was struck at how untransparent and even embarrassingly antidemocratic this decision was. When I got back to my office I had to check on the goals and values we voted unanimously to support last year that were intended to guide our work over the next 5 years. Among the 6 related to How We Work I found these:

Engaging the community - All have a voice and are heard.

Building public trust - We work in an open, ethical and transparent manner.

Collaborating - We work better together as one team. We are a valued partner in the community.

I know these are aspirational and we will not always hit the mark, especially when working in stressful situations. Today was likely one of those times. Today we heard a few voices. Tomorrow, and in the days and weeks ahead, I hope we can do better.

I also had to pull out my handy pocket sized copy of the constitution I keep on my desk and reread that first amendment.

If our goal is to protect "the right of the people to peacefully assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," we clearly missed the mark today. I am concerned that we actually may have had a chilling effect on free speech. As we complain and worry about the current location, are we providing and offering any alternatives? As we welcome in those with grievances about the protesters themselves, are we as welcoming of those with grievances who are protesting or who are supporting those protesters?

If our goal is to peacefully end the occupation of the 4th Precinct (a goal that I believe many of my colleagues and even some inside of the protest movement itself may share), I am concerned that today's actions by the Council may have made that outcome significantly less likely. The only way today's committee meeting made any sense was as an attempt to provide cover for, or put pressure on us for, clearing the 4th Precinct by force.

I hope we avoid that, and I was glad to hear the Mayor this evening on the radio assuring us all that she has not ordered any kind of action to end the protest and that she is not planning on doing that. I appreciate her patience, and I appreciate the community's patience in this.

I believe that we all benefit from an active and engaged electorate. Free speech and the rights of the people to organize and work for change have led to some of the greatest accomplishments and social reforms in this country's history. Democracy is not always easy. It is not always convenient, efficient, clean or tidy. But I believe that there is no better alternative.

A standard line at protests is "this is what democracy looks like!" I'm not sure that today's meeting of the Public Safety committee was.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thoughts On the Mayor’s 2016 Recommended Budget

In August Mayor Hodges gave her budget address, Transforming the Basics of the Twenty-First Century City, and outlined initiatives and priorities for next year’s spending.  I was glad to see the Mayor continue to emphasize equity and embed it clearly into the general health of our city, “Our work to grow the city and grow it well into the future is indistinguishable from our work to make sure life outcomes are not determined by zip code, race or current class status. Out brightest future and out best hope to become the city we are meant to be are in doing this work inside the context of that reality.”  I commend the Mayor for clearly identifying climate change, racial and economic injustice, the need for transportation alternatives and preparing for a new kind of economic future as areas demanding our focus. As she put it “We have entered a time when we are being asked to face and meet the changes of the twenty-first century: the warming of our atmosphere; the reawakened spirit to push harder for racial and economic justice; the inexorable press of people who want to live in cities, and live here without cars; the changing national demographics away from older white people to younger people of color; the new flexibilities that technology is bringing to our workplaces, our communication, our consumption, our manufacturing, and our connections to one another. We must not only match, not only meet, but we must precede the challenges these changes create with innovation, vision, and the bone-deep knowledge that to become the city of the future we must be a city that leads and weathers the transition and is in it for the long haul.”

That speech began the Council’s most active involvement in the process for planning and approving the 2016 budget. Since then we have received budget presentations and reports from all the city departments and the several independent departments or boards that are connected to city budget including the Park and Recreation Board, the Municipal Building Commission and the Youth Coordinating Board. This represents one of the most important decisions the Council makes each year.  I believe that the more the public can be informed and engaged in this process the better.  To that end, I will elaborate on my own initial thoughts and reactions.

In general, I was very impressed with the Mayor’s address and with the budget recommendations as put forward so far. Her focus on basic services, equity, children and youth, youth violence prevention, workforce development, and smart transportation are right on target.

So far I am not planning specific amendments but have been working with Ways and Means Chair CM Quincy on a few issues, including securing funding for our Healthy Seniors programs in Southeast, Seward and Longfellow. Broadly speaking,  I wish we could be doing more in four areas: leveraging our clean energy partnership to push harder for clean energy; growth and the need to balance it with preservation and conservation; the future of civic participation and our neighborhood organizations; and reform in the criminal justice system.  I will note that the current budget does support and leaves ample room to work on these issues next year.  A new idea that I would like to see incorporated into next year’s budget is participatory budgeting

For now, let’s dig in to the some of the details of the budget.

I am generally supportive of her proposed levy and overall budget increase. She is recommending a budget for all “City” funds of $1.22 billion. This is a $31.7 million, or 2.7%, increase from last year’s budget of $1.19 billion. This is reasonable and consistent with cost living increases.  When the independent boards are included, the overall recommended increase is 3.4% in the property tax levy, raising the total amount levied by $9.8 million, from $287.6 million in 2015 to $297.5 million in 2016. The recommended budget uses the growth in the “tax base” (from the increase of the total number of property owners paying taxes) as well as accumulated, unspent funds from previous years; unanticipated growth in city sales and entertainment tax revenues; and Local Government Aid (LGA) funds from the State, to make improvements in services and programs while minimizing the impact on the property taxpayers. They Mayor, and finance staff, project that because of these factors nearly 2/3rds of property owners in the city will see a reduction in city property taxes next year.   

You can watch the mayor’s budget address and upcoming budget hearings on Minneapolis 79 (Comcast Cable channel 79) or on a smartphone, tablet or computer by visiting the City of Minneapolis website here

Here are how some of the most noteworthy budget highlights that are in sync my goals and priorities. 

·         $400,000 to accelerate Minneapolis’ conversation of City-owned streetlights to LED technology and save about $113,400 a year over their life cycle and pay for itself in three and a half years.
·         Green Business Investment Matching funding to provide money for businesses that work with hazardous substances to operate more cleanly to reduce pollution.
·         $50,000 to create a Green Zone pilot program which will use economic development to catalyze environmental and economic justice in vulnerable neighborhoods.
·         $155,000 to support Upper Harbor Terminal redevelopment along the river.
·         Ongoing funding for the Clean Energy Partnership to execute the 2016 work plan and meet goals to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in Minneapolis.
·         Funding for police body cameras and civilian staff to implement the program.
·         $13 million for affordable housing, which includes a increase of 2 million for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund in general, $1 million flexible dollars to help create affordable housing options for large families, and targeted rental assistance for families leaving shelters and $800,000 targeted to support stable senior housing.
·         $300,000 for police to hire a recruit class to help fill the 862 sworn officer positions in the City.
·         $435,262 in funding for two additional analysts in the Crime Analyst Unit and two additional forensic scientists in the Crime Lab. The new positions will free officers up to spend more time in the community and process requests more efficiently and quickly.
·         A proposed $15,000 for the City Attorney’s office to increase the reach of their driver’s licenses diversion program which aims to reduce the negative impact driving related offenses has on communities of color.
·         Funding for a pilot program that gives the Attorney’s Office the responsibility to charge misdemeanors and ensures more direct feedback to officers.
·         Tripling investments the City makes in restorative justice to break the cycle of recidivism and negative community impact.
·         $112,000 to bolster the City’s BUILD Leaders program which takes young men of color and puts them in leadership roles where they also learn employment skills
·         Funding for 30 “TechHire Initiative” scholarships to provide women and people of color with job training in technology skills.
·         $200,000 in funding for two new positions to aid the roll-out of the City’s Working Family Agenda policy—expected this fall—that will be tasked with business outreach, employee education, and the development of enforcement mechanisms.
·         A new American with Disabilities compliance position to ensure the city is accessible and livable for all residents.
·         Funding for two new sworn police officers who will focus on youth outreach downtown.
·         $200,000 in funding for the Fire Department to implement innovative new programs to get youth and high school students of diverse background into pipelines that transition to jobs in the EMT and firefighter fields.
·         $10 million for the City’s portion of the 10th Avenue bridge rehabilitation.
·         A new position in the City Auditor’s office to handle the increased demand of property assessments.
·         $200,000 for elections to increase the number of polling places to facilitate a better election next year.
·         $85,000 for the implementation of the Business Made Simple working group recommendations to make it easier for businesses to invest in Minneapolis. 
·         Funding for four new construction and six new housing inspectors.
·         $50,000 to help more communities and residents engage the City’s Zero Waste programs.
·         Funding for two positions in for the next three years to focus on redrafting the City’s Comprehensive plan — which guides growth and operations for 10 years — with a focus on sustainability and equity.

It is worth noting that, despite some additional resources and staff, the 2016 budget includes over 100 fewer full time employees than in 2007, just before we made significant cuts to our staff and services in response to the financial conditions at that time. Given the economics, the growth in our city and the demands of today, I believe this makes sense.

This year the Council scheduled two public comment hearings on the proposed 2016 property tax levy and budget. The first was held November 18 at 6:05 p.m. in Room 317 of City Hall, and the second will be on December 9 at 6:05 p.m. General upcoming dates in the 2016 budget process include:
        1-4 p.m., Dec. 4 and 7 – Ways and Means Budget Subcommittee budget markup.
        6:05 p.m., Dec. 9 – City Council final vote on budget after the public hearing.

For more information about the budget, including the full budget  visit