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:

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Civilian Review Authority Work Group

The CRA work group that I worked to create back in February has now met for the second time, and started doing the difficult work it was created to do: delving into the process for civilian review of Minneapolis Police Department officers.

The work group is charged with working on recommendations from the independent study of the CRA that was completed and received by the Council in February. The work group’s work plan will be presented at an upcoming Public Safety and Regulatory Services meeting.

There were some decisions made by the work group at our last meeting and at today's HE&E committee. They are being forwarded to the PS&RS committee which also oversees the Task Force and should go to the full City Council May 12. Here are the recommendations:

1) The work group voted unanimously to recommend that the PS&RS committee hear Requests for Proposals from independent external groups to conduct an audit of the Internal Affairs unit of the Police Department. This action is beyond the scope of the CRA task force, but very necessary. The outcomes from complaints funneled through IAU are statistically very different from outcomes from the CRA process, even when the complaints are quite similar.

2) The work group voted unanimously to recommend that the PS&RS committee create an interdepartmental work group to refine the existing “early warning system” for the few problem officers who create many of the complaints and lawsuits. Right now, there is such a system within the MPD, but the Administration agrees that it is not as effective as it should be. The system in place now is not connected anywhere near well enough to the CRA. This work group should include, but not be limited to, the MPD, the Civil Rights Department, Human Resources, the City Attorney’s office and the police union.

3) The CRA study recommended that the MPD create a “CRA Liaison” in the upper ranks of the Administration. The task force was informed that Chief Dolan has already taken this step, appointing Deputy Chief Sharon Lubinski to the position.

There was a lengthy discussion of a more controversial recommendation from the CRA report, that the Council change the ordinance to allow CRA Staff to dismiss complaints without Board approval.

I am very uncomfortable with this recommendation for three reasons:

1) We’re talking about the Civilian Review Authority. Decisions about whether to dismiss formal complaints, especially based on the merit of the complaint, should be made by members of the civilian board, not by employees of the City.

2) The perception of this change will be even more damaging than the change itself. If residents get the message that a CRA complaint can be dismissed without ever having been seen by one of their peers, it will undermine the whole process and may discourage people from making complaints in the first place. This would be the worst possible outcome, in my opinion. It would decrease trust between communities and the police and likely increase lawsuits.

3) As pointed out by CRA Chair Michael Weinbeck, this change would have to go through the Council as an amendment to the CRA ordinance, because it violates the “firewall” between the Civil Rights Department and the CRA. Decisions about any outcome of an individual case, including dismissal, should be made by the board, not a Department head.

I will continue to fight on this issue. If the work group overrides my concerns and votes in favor of this recommendation, I will raise these concerns in the Council process.

All in all, the work group discussions have been quite respectful, constructive and productive. I am impressed with the professionalism and cooperativeness of every person around the table.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Wind turbines

In the City of Minneapolis, it is impossible (search for "535.110") to build an electricity-generating wind turbine on any piece of land not zoned industrial. And even then, a turbine can't be over 35 feet tall.

In my opinion, this conflicts with the City’s Sustainability Indicators, especially the second, which calls for an aggressive increase in renewable energy use by 2015. According to the ongoing industrial land use study, Minneapolis will likely lose 30% of its industrial land over the next 20 years. These trends are incompatible.

I'm looking into possible solutions to this problem. Obviously, we can't let anyone go ahead and build a high power wind turbine in their back yard with no control - there are safety, noise and aesthetic issues to be addressed.

But there is no good reason that I can see for treating wind turbines differently from cell and ham radio towers and communication antennas. These are permitted (search for "535.470") in all zones in the city, with certain height restrictions and a sensible engineering review process. They can be mounted up to fifteen feet above the top of any existing structure, even more with a Conditional Use Permit.

And there are other sorts of wind turbines: small, building-mountable horizontal varieties and nontraditional “vertical axis” models. These smaller models are designed to more efficiently use variable and turbulent wind. Windpower generation technologies are rapidly improving, both in terms of reduced negative effects (noise, vibration, etc.) and in terms of efficiency. Urban settings, once considered useless for windpower generation, are an emerging growth area for these newer technologies. And according to the UK's Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils, the possibilities are huge. This report states that if just 1% of residential properties and 1.5% of commercial properties were retrofitted with wind turbines, the UK could generate 1.7-5 TWh of electricity (enough to power over 500,000 average US homes), reducing carbon emissions by as much as 2.2 megatons annually!

I believe that the City should be doing everything we can to encourage residents, developers and businesses to increase the energy generation capacity of our urban environment. At the very least, we should not be setting up unnecessary obstacles.

For this reason, last Friday I moved to introduce subject matter regarding wind turbines, broadening and expanding their allowable and conditional uses. To see the subject matter introduction, look here (it's at the bottom of the agenda, under Motions, and it's item 7).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Upcoming Forum: 4-11-06

Please join me for the next in my series of monthly forums on public policy issues of importance to residents of the Second Ward:

Land Use and Transportation Policy
April 11th, 6:30-8:30 pm
Pratt School, 66 Malcolm Ave SE

The City is engaged in an extensive land use study, especially focused on industrial land uses. We are also in the midst of establishing a 10-year transportation plan for the city. The City Council will likely face difficult policy decisions in the months ahead. Your participation and input will be greatly appreciated.